First off, Ben Johnson wrote on Edutopia about the need to learn. He seems to be arguing that teachers need to worry less about their students' lives outside of school and just focus on teaching.
Am I sacrilegious by saying we should not spend so much time worrying about what happens in a student's home and should spend more time creating effective learning environments at school?I have a hard time divorcing the two. If I ignore the fact that one of my students is living in a homeless shelter and that another just lost a baby brother in order to focus solely on their learning environment, is that truly helpful? I can't completely separate my life outside of school from my life in school so it seems absurd to think that young children can.
To follow up on that topic Valerie Strauss had a post (on the Washington Post) about the shortage of school counselors. Apparently schools are recommended to have one counselor for every 250 students. Our district seems to fund one counselor for every 500 students. Just allotting counselors per student does not make a lot of sense. Schools with many students living in poverty are likely to have a greater number of issues requiring counselors. Need should be factored into this question. Of course, none of that is relevant if there aren't enough counselors to begin with.
The National Association of Secondary School Principals had a recent post considering the impact of poverty on PISA scores. They have taken the time to break out our PISA scores based on percentage of students in the free or reduced lunch program. One of the most astounding things to me is that no one seems to have the poverty rate we have. That alone suggests a problem far greater than anything in education. The charts the NASSP have created comparing PISA scores are worth checking out.
Finally, Jay Mathews (also at the Washington Post) encouraged schools offering free or reduced price breakfasts to require students to read as they eat. This is not surprising as Mathews often argues for more learning time in a variety of ways. While I am not against making powerful use of the time we have students in school, I also believe that learning is social. Children need time to talk to one another. I also know that in many high poverty schools children do not have a lot of social time outside of school. They go home to apartments and remain there because their parents do not feel it is safe to let them run around outside (and quite possibly they are correct). I fear we are losing sight of children as people and seeing them only as small vessels who must learn things we have deemed important.
(While Mathews did not offend me with this post, many of the comments do. But that's a whole other post.)