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If many so-called education reformers really want to close the student achievement gap, they should direct their fire away from public school educators and take aim at the real issue—poverty. This was the consensus of a panel of policy advocates and academics that convened recently on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. to discuss the impact of poverty on student learning over the past 40 years. The panelists presented data that showed the current state of student achievement and discussed what changes needed to be made to address the needs of students and schools in low socio-economic areas.

“It’s time to stop arguing whether schools prepare students for the future and launch a full scale attack on poverty,” said panelist Peter Edelman of the Center on Poverty, Inequality, and Public Policy.

Joining Edelman on the panel were Sean Reardon, Professor of Education and Sociology at Stanford University School of Education; David Sciarra, Executive Director of the Education Law Center in Newark, New Jersey; Eric Rafael González an Education Policy Advocate for the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc.; and Elaine Weiss, national coordinator for the Broader Bolder Approach to Education.

The panel used their presentations to demonstrate how more affluent schools have made significant gains in academic improvement over the past 40 years while under-funded schools, while making some strides, have been unable to close the achievement gap. The panelists urged lawmakers to avoid blaming the public school system and instead put programs in place to address the crippling poverty that obstructs student learning.

“We do have a responsibility to build a system of public schools that address poverty needs as soon as the students walk through the door,” Sciarra said.

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