Friday, October 4, 2013

The Tale of Two Students, Or how can you possibly blame the teacher?

by Loretta Prisco
Published in Staten Island Democratic Association, Nov. 2012,
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…
In one of the richest cities in the world, live two children, though a few miles apart, they might as well live in two different worlds.

Miranda lives with her college graduated Mom and Dad and two siblings in a home flush with magazines, newspapers and a library full of books. Her mother is a free-lance writer which gives her time to attend school functions and her dad is in finance.

Not quite a white picket fence, but they live in a full service condo with a concierge for package deliveries, pick up and drop off dry cleaning, and a pool and gym on the 12th floor. They employ baby sitters when needed and cleaning help. Fresh-Direct groceries and take out food are delivered regularly.

Miranda was in a play group until age 1½ and then went to a private competitive nursery school. A family illness is a trip to a private doctor with costs paid for by medical insurance. Miranda’s grandmother is not well and lives in a nearby private nursing home.

Sometimes on long school vacations, Miranda’s homework is not done as the family dashes off to some Caribbean island.

Joelle lives with her working parents and two siblings. Her mother has a GED and works as a nurse’s aide, and her father dropped out of school when his dad died, is a custodial worker in a public school.

The family lives in a 4th floor walkup. The water that puddles on the floor from the leaky roof cannot to be compared with Miranda’s 12th floor swimming pool. And who needs a gym when there are four flights to carry up groceries? All the daily chores are done after work or on the weekend leaving little time for recreation.

Joelle’s family is tight knit and supportive. Their grandmother cared for the children until they began kindergarten. Without medical insurance, an illness is a trip to the emergency room. All three children are taken out of school when one is ill because there is no guarantee that they will be home by 3 to pick up the well children.

Joelle’s grandfather is not well and lives with the family. Aunts, uncles, and cousins take care of him during the day when Joelle’s family is at work. When one doesn’t show up, one of Joelle’s parents must stay home and lose pay. Her mom’s boss is threatening to fire her because of her attendance.

They enter school and we use the same measuring stick to evaluate their teacher’s effectiveness.

Let’s go to the research.

With knowledge that vocabulary experience is the building block of reading, it is no surprise that children with low vocabulary struggle with reading.

On their first day of kindergarten, average achievement scores for young children in the most impoverished families are 60% lower than scores for children in the highest income families. Inequality at the Starting Gate, News Conference. September 2002

After a 2 ½ year longitudinal study, researchers Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley found that “the average child in the professional families with 215,000 words of language experience, the average child in a working-class family provided with 125,000 words, and the average child in a welfare family with 62,000 words of language experience. In a 5,200-hour year, the amount would be 11.2 million words for a child in a professional family, 6.5 million words for a child in a working-class family, and 3.2 million words for a child in a welfare family. In four years of such experience, an average child in a professional family would have accumulated experience with almost 45 million words, an average child in a working-class family would have accumulated experience with 26 million words, and an average child in a welfare family would have accumulated experience with 13 million words.”

Is poverty an excuse for non-achievement? – absolutely not. But don’t ask teachers or students to perform without the necessary resources and support services to make achievement even a possibility.
Loretta Prisco is a retired NYC elementary school teacher who also served in the District 31 (Staten Island) local office and at the Central Board.


  1. This is said is the most eloquent way I have read or heard (and I've been reading and hearing it for years).

  2. Wow. Thank you for sharing. Very powerful, very honest. This speaks volumes.


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