Monday, January 10, 2011

Poverty Matters

Researchers at the University of Texas are concluding with a new study that poverty actually suppresses a child's genetic potential. Through a study of 750 sets of twins, researchers concluded that genetic potential can account for as much as half of the success a wealthier child achieves. By contrast, poor kids do not receive benefit from genetic qualities. Thus, it's not that poor people are genetically inferior to the wealthy, but instead that poverty is so damaging to children that its lack of opportunity inhibits any genetic advantages kids may have had.

Clearly, this has significant ramifications for education reform in a country where 1 in 5 children live in a state of poverty. That condition impacts kids through food insecurity and nutrition, adequate sleep and health care, early educational opportunities, and a sense of well being, among a myriad of other factors. Thus, it's not surprising the United States struggles in PISA scores against nations like Finland and Singapore where the poverty rate is 2% for school children. And, it creates a conundrum for communities seeking to improve their school performance.

Certainly, poor kids rise above their circumstances all the time - but not many and not without a great deal of additional support beyond the norms of public education.


Anonymous said...

We're testing 2 year-old's here? I'm not sure how much stock to put in such things. Longer-term studies show that "nurture" loses to "nature" every time and that the predominance of "nature" becomes stronger as we age. We are our genes.

A review of studies that I saw found 50% of the difference in intelligence in adults was due to genetics, 30% to in-utero effects, and 20% to environment. I was really surprised by this.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't address poverty. I'm just saying that we shouldn't read too much into such a study that (perhaps) is showing what it wants to show.

mmazenko said...

Yes, but the emphasis on nature runs a little too close to a Dickensian argument that the poor are poor and their kids stay poor because they are genetically inferior. If you are in education long enough, you can see the completely average wealthy kids who have greater access because of environment, as well as the truly brilliant poor kids who never get the chance. Certainly, DNA matters, as I tell my kids all the time, some are not smart enough to be "A" writers or skilled enough to make first violin in the orchestra. But poverty and environment matter a great deal more than many will admit.