An anti-poverty agenda

Paul Tough concludes his must read new book, How Children Succeed, with ideas on how American can far better deal with poverty.

He starts with a belief that the best of the urban reform schools across the country (KIPP and others), although they have made a real difference in the lives of low income, largely African American and Latino kids growing up in central cities, have not made much difference in the lives of children growing up in the deepest poverty. Tough’s measure for those is household income of $11,000 or less. Tums out that the standard metric for the proportion of kid in a school who are low income––eligibility for free and reduced lunch––includes kids in households with incomes up to around $40,000.

These findings are consistent with what we found in our study of Detroit parents as school shoppers. That the students in choice schools––as opposed to default schools––were living in households that had significantly higher incomes and better educated parents.

Tough writes: “No one has found a reliable way to help deeply disadvantage children. … Instead we have created a disjointed, ad hoc system of government agencies and programs, that follow them haphazardly through their childhood and adolescence. … The system as a whole is extremely expensive and widely inefficient, and it has a very low rate of success: almost no one who passes through it as a child graduates from college or achieves the other markers of a happy and successful life: a good career, and intact family, a stable home.”

Tough then proposed a comprehensive system from birth through college of improving life outcomes for kids growing up in the deepest, most pervasive poverty. Along with identifying high quality programs in each area that can serve as models for what an effective anti-poverty system can and should look like:

Tough concludes: “a coordinated system like that, targeted at the 10-15 percent of students at the highest risk of failure, would be expensive. … But it would almost certainly be cheaper than the ad hoc system we have in place now. It would save not only lives but money…”

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