"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, April 01, 2011

Helping homeless children by testing them more?

Sent to the NY Daily News, March 30

"Schools put to the test as ranks of homeless students grow, causing stress for kids, staff," March 30) tells us that 20% of children in some areas of Manhattan are homeless, which results in hunger, sleep deprivation, and no quiet place to do homework. Even the best teaching in the world will have very limited results with children living under these conditions.

Manhattan is not the only place with high levels of child poverty. In fact, the US has the highest level of child poverty among all industrialized countries.

Instead of taking steps to deal with these problems directly, the US Department of Education is investing huge sums of money in developing new standards and in a vastly increased testing program to enforce the standards.

Instead of trying to reduce homelessness and trying to protect children against the effects of poverty, our government is wasting money on measuring the problem more precisely.

Stephen Krashen

Schools put to the test as ranks of homeless students grow, causing stress for kids, staff

New York Daily News, March 30

Along a mile stretch in upper Manhattan, staffers at seven schools educate a daunting population - at least one in five of their students is homeless.

At Public School 128 in Washington Heights, where 22% of students didn't have a stable home last year, the staff collected food at the holidays and distributed it to families. Last week, the school raffled off 10 coats.

Down the road at Middle School 349, where more than a third of the students are homeless, budget cuts have trimmed after-school programs to a couple of days a week. Homeless kids have to go to the local library and wait for one of six computers to open up so they can do homework.

"Their homework is lacking because they have no space and no quiet time outside of school," said Marie Andino, a math coach at PS 128. "We see it in the classroom when they're falling asleep."

While Washington Heights is hardest hit, student homelessness is a citywide trend. There was an increase of up to 7% last year, meaning 62,000 to 65,000 kids live in unstable homes.

Staffers grappling with budget cuts try to provide extra help for these students, who lack basics like a spot to study.

For many students, it's not just the instability and crowded conditions that press in on them - they also fight hard to keep their situations secret.

"I don't want any of my friends to know these things," a student at MS 322 in Washington Heights said. "They would automatically think wrong things."

The 14-year-old gets up at 5:30 a.m. to make the trek with her mom and siblings from a shelter in lower Manhattan, where the five have shared a room for almost a year.

"They're constantly acting out now," said the teen's mom, Delia Ayala. "They never used to be like that. They were good students."

Last week Ayala, 46, got a call about her daughter getting into a fight at school. And she didn't pass her math class last semester, the first time she's ever failed.

The simple act of getting to school often becomes a huge barrier, especially when a family must suddenly relocate. By law, students can stay in their home school, and districts must provide transportation. Advocates say the law is often ignored.

Rosbelys Bello, 9, was doing well at PS123 in Bushwick, Brooklyn, but after her family became homeless, a district staffer said she had to change schools unless she could pay for transportation, her mom said.

So last February, she was forced to switch to PS 332 in Brownsville, which will be phased out starting in September.

"I feel very impotent," Rosbelys' mom, Gloria de la Cruz Duran, said. "I couldn't afford the $8 in carfare."

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