No, poor kids don't struggle in school because their parents have small vocabularies

The "Word Gap" theory holds that poor kids' school performance is the result of their parents' inability to expose them to rich vocabularies at home.

This is a great theory because it makes the problem "poverty" and not "schools where discipline is job one." It means that teachers can be forced to be "accountable" by turning them into machines that drill their poor kids on vocabulary instead of pursuing project-based learning, experiential learning, and all those other rich (ahem) pedagogical approaches that wealthy kids get to do in their classroom.

Rather than blaming the achievement gap on underfunded schools where kids are made to sit still and shut up and do standardized exercises, the "Word Gap" — based on a flawed, biased study — gives us a nice, algorithmic solution that can even be turned into a product that can be sold by learnware companies to already cash-strapped schools, absorbing grant money allocated to address the achievement gap.

You know what's worse than a bad idea? A bad idea with a business-model.

Research shows that teachers of poor students and/or students of color often dwell on the experiences and language that their students are missing and default to teaching practices such as vocabulary drills and rote repetition that emphasize obedience and quiet behavior.

Not only do these types of learning experiences limit students' opportunities to develop language, they also negatively affect students' views of themselves as learners. Poor students are made to feel less capable because of what they do not know.

Because of the "word gap" and other widespread assumptions grounded in deficit thinking—the idea that low-income minority students fail in school because they and their families have deficiencies—many teachers are not tapping into the strengths and rich experiences that their students bring to school. Consequently, they deny students the types learning experiences that allow them to explore, talk and collaborate…

…Low-income children are more likely than their higher-income peers to be in factory-like classrooms that allow little interaction and physical movement. As a result, these children spend more time sitting, following directions and listening rather than discussing, debating, solving problems and sharing ideas.

Why Do Rich Kids Do Better Than Poor Kids in School? It's Not the "Word Gap."
[Molly McManus/New Republic]

(via Skepchick)

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