In the Media

News & Observer publishes Dean McDiarmid column on poverty, schools

Photo of Bill McDiarmid

Bill McDiarmid


Dean Bill McDiarmid brings to public discussion the impact of poverty on student learning outcomes in a guest column in the Dec. 14 edition of The News & Observer of Raleigh.

McDiarmid explores data that describe a relationship between student poverty levels and schools’ performance. He cites an international study that demonstrates

  • In schools in which 10 percent or less of the student population lives in poverty, U.S. schools rank No. 1 in the world.
  • In schools in which 75 percent or more of students live in poverty, U.S. schools rank next to last, ahead of only Mexico.

Researchers have demonstrated that stressors, including those found in families that live in poverty, cause biological reactions in children that can affect their capacity to develop thinking skills.

“Well-designed school experiences and well-trained teachers can help some children develop cognitively to compensate for being raised in a high-poverty home. For too many children, however, these experiences and teachers are unavailable or inadequate and, as a result, they never catch up to their more affluent peers,” McDiarmid writes.

While the public and policymakers profess to believe all children should have access to a full education, we are not getting the programs and supports designed to alleviate the stresses impoverished families and their children are experiencing, he says.

“The long-term health of our society dictates the need for a statewide and national conversation – grounded in solid research and our democratic ideals – about how we support our most vulnerable children,” McDiarmid concludes.