Study: Poverty reduces brain function in children

5:56 pm

Advocates for “closing the achievement gap” pay attention: a new study from the University of California, Berkeley, shows dramatically reduced brain function in poor children when compared to children from high-income homes.

“It is a similar pattern to what’s seen in patients with strokes that have led to lesions in their prefrontal cortex,” which controls higher-order thinking and problem solving, says lead researcher Mark Kishiyama, a cognitive psychologist at the University of California-Berkeley. “It suggests that in these kids, prefrontal function is reduced or disrupted in some way.”

As has been argued here and elsewhere, actually closing the achievement gap will require a co-ordinated anti-poverty effort beyond the scope of any single school district. This study serves to reinforce that basic fact of social science.

The “achievement gap” is a symptom of the “income gap,” the “opportunity gap” and many other gaps. Drill and test all you want, even if you improve test scores, you’re still not doing anything real to address the problems faced by poor children.

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Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

filed under: Media, National, Standardized Testing

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4 Responses

  1. Comment from ohme:

    It is good that people are taking note of all of the difficulties placed in front of children of poverty. Another great study by Hart & Risely, “Language Disparity and what it means for achievement”
    has shown that children in poverty enter school with significantly less language and vocabulary. In my own action research, I have found my students’ language to be (on average) two YEARS behind the expected function for their age level. This gap widens as the years go by.

    Basically, children in poverty often have to make two years or more of language growth per year of school just to catch up with their more affluent peers. Which means that in my classroom, I have to achieve two-three years worth of learning in nine months in order for my students to succeed. I accept this fact and work double time all year to make it happen for as many children as possible. If I don’t, my school faces sanctions

    I remember when NCLB was enacted and one of the goals was to have “all children meeting benchmark by 2014”. My first thought was, great! Then I will expect our government to do away with poverty, hunger, homelessness, and child abuse by 2014. You can’t have perfect achievement in school without addressing the societal problems that impact achievement.
    Maybe we can label the government “failing” and “reorganize” them!

  2. Comment from Terry:

    Michael Martin, a researcher for the Arizona School Boards Association, attributes much of the cognitive deficit of poor kids, and their difficulty in school, to lead poisoning.

    In fact, he wrote a book about it.

  3. Comment from Lakeitha:

    While agree there are some challenges related to poverty and the education gap, I think part of the problem is that teachers and administrators see these studies and lower their expectations, dumb down the curriculum and become the teachers intent on saving the poor little children rather than teaching them. When people begin to talk to me about their school and the discussion begins with “we are a title one school or —%of our students are on free or reduced lunch, I seem to tune those people out. I want to know the strengths of the students and the families and community not the deficit. I am the child of drug addicted mother and father and I lived in the house with my grandmother who was married and had children at 12. We lived on food stamps and cash assistance but, I went to Humboldt Elementary where the teachers didn’t have any lowered expectations of me and where there were caring adults who wanted to see me succeed, and I excelled.

  4. Comment from howard:

    Well said Lakeitha. There was a misleading USA Today headline. The first paragraph of the article qualifies the affected group to “some” poor children: “A new study finds that certain brain functions of some low-income 9- and 10-year-olds pale in comparison with those of wealthy children.”

    It’s values, not money, that shape brains and learning. What we choose to eat, what we choose to learn how we choose to raise our children — choices are free. Are other individuals in the family or neighborhood willing to step in. If you want a smart kid, read to him. If you want a genius, read to him some more. Some poor kids are culturally flawed. A lesser percentage of wealthy kids are culturally flawed. I doubt that the majority of poor kids are uneducable even when inadequate preschool opportunities for poor children and the “soft bigotry of low expectations” in public schools is factored in.