Greg Toppo, top education news reporter for USA Today, highlights a ground-breaking study in his piece on December 8th that provides incontrovertible evidence, perhaps for the very first time, on how poverty afflicts children's brains. Toppo reported on a study published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience that found poverty affects the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is critical for problem-solving and creativity.
This study emphasizes the devastating effects of poverty on children's achievement. But we must be wary about its conclusions. Some will suggest it provides grist for the mill for Charles Murray's argument that these children are incorrigible, unable to learn, and unworthy of federal dollar supports to improve their achievement. Looking at the long list of failed interventions, they'll use these studies as evidence of their claims.
Their point will resonate with many folks as indicated by Murray's best seller status. And if the truth be told, too often we have provided watered down, poorly-constructed, low-cost interventions that have shown little for our tax dollars.
Unfortunately, what this study doesn't emphasize is that we can change the odds for children in poverty. However, we need powerful, intensive interventions. I've conducted research, highlighted in "Changing the Odds for Children at Risk," that demonstrates interventions that have sustainable impact over time. These interventions follow seven essentials: they target children who need help the most; begin early; use coordinated services to provide much-needed health care, provide high dosage efforts that involve highly trained professionals; compensatory services; and are accountable for results.
Programs like Nurse-Family partnerships, Early Head Start, Bright Beginnings and others indicate what can and should be done to ensure low-income children's achievement.