Measure of Student Poverty Imprecise

Posted by on August 15, 2003

[posted from Public Education Network newsblast]


Ask Troy Peuler how many students at his school are white, black or Hispanic and the principal can quickly produce an accurate count. Ask him how many poor children attend there and his confidence melts away. Like every school in the country, Peuler’s school, Vandora Springs Elementary in North Carolina, uses free and reduced-price lunch counts as a measure of how many low-income children it enrolls. The figure is probably close. It is almost certainly wrong. This matters at Vandora Springs because they failed to meet new federal standards for school improvement by razor-thin margins. In each case, if only three, two or even one more "poor" student had passed the state’s mandatory reading or math exams, the school would have met the goals of the No Child Left Behind Act. Schools that fail to meet the standards for two consecutive years must allow parents the choice of transferring their children. But the people who run subsidized lunch
programs say free and reduced lunch counts aren’t meant to bear such academic scrutiny. Created almost 60 years ago to help feed poor kids, the school lunch program serves more than 25 million students in 99,000 schools nationwide. It serves more than 500,000 children in North Carolina. Translating those numbers into an accurate accounting of student poverty is a process fraught with potential miscounts, reports Tim Higgins.

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