William G. Tierney edits new book, “Rethinking Education and Poverty”
Volume brings together scholars from around the world to examine complex relationship between education and poverty in the 21st century
By Noel Alumit
The matter of poverty is immense. Poverty crosses all lines of race, gender and sexual orientation. Religion or national origin does not abate it. Poverty among children is particularly challenging. As William G. Tierney aptly puts it in a new edited volume of essays titled Rethinking Education and Poverty (Johns Hopkins University Press), specifically from his opening chapter, “Education’s Role in the Elimination of Poverty in the Twenty-First Century”:
“Around the world, children in poverty are much more likely than other children to die before the age of five or to fall seriously ill from communicable or environmental diseases. The poor have a greater likelihood of being poisoned by lead or having worse nutrition and less access to quality health care. They experience higher rates of asthma, heart disease and mental illness.”
The United States is not free from this kind of turmoil. As Tierney further points out that more than 16 million American children live in poverty and at least a million homeless students are attending public school.
“We reject the assumption that schools, colleges and universities cannot accomplish any reforms, but we also are decidedly more circumspect than those who assume that one reform or another will fix what ails the country in its goal to reduce poverty.”
—William G. Tierney, Wilbur-Kieffer Professor of Higher Education
It would be too easy to say that poor children have social or medical services that keep them from falling through the cracks. Unfortunately, they still fall through the cracks affecting every level of their lives. This certainly includes their educational outcomes.
Jamal Abedi, a professor in educational measurement at the University of California, Davis, wrote in his chapter “Student Academic Achievement and Poverty”:
“Despite many targeted efforts to boost academic achievement for all students, those with low socioeconomic status (SES) continue to perform lower academically, have higher school dropout rates, and are admitted to and graduate from colleges and universities at lower rates.”
Abedi acknowledges that issues of poverty are “complex and multidimensional.” Race, family structures and student aspirations are only a few external factors that enlarge the discussion of poverty, but he cites research that shows early intervention can lessen the impact of poverty in a student’s life.
Abedi is just one scholar raising his voice about this very weighty subject. Other contributors include Philip J. Bowman (University of Michigan), Kristin Cipollone (Buffalo State College), Shirley Brice Heath (Stanford University), Mark C. Hogrebe (Washington University in St. Louis), Zeus Leonardo (UC Berkeley), Simon Marginson (Institute of Education in London and joint editor-in-chief of Higher Education), Jeannie Oakes (UCLA), Fernando M. Reimers (Harvard), C. Matthew Snipp (Stanford University), Edward P. St. John (University of Michigan), Amy E. Stitch (Northern Illinois University), William F. Tate (Washington University in St. Louis) and Lois Weis (State University of New York).
All of them enlighten the subject of education and poverty from a global to a local perspective. Fortunately, solutions are also part of this book. Some suggestions are to look to countries in Asia who are making progress in this arena or possibly utilizing the arts and creativity as an intervention.
However, there is certainly no easy solution. But it is possible with a little—well, a lot—of concerted effort.
Tierney says in his introduction, “We reject the assumption that schools, colleges and universities cannot accomplish any reforms, but we also are decidedly more circumspect than those who assume that one reform or another will fix what ails the country in its goal to reduce poverty. Overriding all of the chapters is the assumption that in a democratic nation, education can provide opportunity if the country has structures that enable it to happen.”
Like its telling title, this book is truly asking us to rethink education and poverty—a feat every educator, parent and policymaker worth a darn should be tackling.
Tierney is Wilbur-Kieffer Professor of Higher Education and co-director of the Pullias Center for Higher Education. Earlier this year he co-edited The Problem of College Readiness (SUNY Press, 2015) with co-editor Julia C. Duncheon PhD ’15, a recent Rossier graduate who is now an assistant professor at University of Texas, El Paso.
Noel Alumit is the technical writer in USC Rossier’s Office of Research and Faculty Affairs and edits the education blog 21st Century Scholar