Poverty in Maine Schools
People tend to undermine problems when they are not experiencing it themselves first-hand. For example, it can be easy for those above the poverty level to ignore the issue, because they are not the ones who are struggling; out of sight, out of mind. It would make sense to assume that those who do not live in poverty would be, for the most part, unaffected by it. Surprisingly, according to new research in Maine, poverty within a community can have adverse effects even on those who are well-above the poverty level. The recent article above from the Portland Press Herald brings to attention the effects of poverty on the academic performance of Maine students. My hope is that the issue of poverty in Maine will gain more attention now, since the scope of people affected by poverty has proven to be wider than most would imagine.
This recent study comes from researchers at the University of Southern Maine, who found that ultimately, “students who are not living in poverty but attend higher poverty schools don’t perform as well as their peers at more affluent schools.” This correlation is based on an in-depth analysis of grades and the amount students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch in different Maine schools. According to the study, if two students from one wealthy family were to attend separate schools – the first attending school in a wealthy community and the second attending school in a high-poverty community – the first student would likely perform better academically than the second.
Strangely, the report “did not find that per-pupil spending was a strong indicator of test scores.” This part of the study came as a shock to me; I thought for sure that since more education funding typically means more technology, supplies, and a wider variety of electives, it would certainly lead to better academic performance. Apparently, that is not the case! If an increase in educational funding will not fix the problem, what will? The study seems to imply that the root of the problem is not necessarily financial. Perhaps it has more to do with the students’ learning environments and communities.
While the solution remains a mystery at the moment, I think that this study is very important and that it will open the eyes of those who believe that poverty is not a significant problem. As I said above, it’s easy for people to look at poverty in Maine as an insignificant issue, especially considering the fact that Maine’s overall poverty rate is lower than the national percentage. However, that does not mean that there are not communities in Maine that are struggling and in dire need of help; for example, Lewiston, Portland, and countless others throughout the state.
The sad truth is that it is hard to get people to pay attention to problems that are not directly affecting them — but, maybe now families will think twice about the significance of poverty, since it can evidently affect even the wealthiest of students in a lower-class school. Whether we are aware of it or not, Mainers must recognize that poverty affects every single one of us, and we must work together to help those in need.