Monday, May 21, 2012

I Write Emails

Mr. Krieger,

Before I forget about it entirely, I should note that RIDE's May 1 press release "12 Schools that are Leading the Way" misuses the term "poverty."

For example: "At the Citizens Memorial School, in Woonsocket, which has a poverty rate of more than 90 percent" is not accurate.   According to RIDE's Information Works!, 87% of Citizens Memorial students were eligible for subsized lunches.  This is not, however, synonymous with "poverty."

As you no doubt know, no students receiving reduced price lunches are considered by the official definition to live in "poverty," and as free lunch eligibility extends to 130% of the poverty line, it also includes many students not living in poverty.

I have friends whose children are eligible for reduced lunches that neither they, nor you, nor I would consider to be living in "poverty," including families led by parents working in the Providence Public Schools.

This is particularly important because lumping in reduced lunch eligible students with free lunch eligible students obscures important demographic differences between schools.  The NEAP achievement gaps between free and reduced lunch eligible students are almost as large as those between reduced and no lunch subsidy.

This is also timely because higher performing urban schools, particularly charters, tend to enroll higher percentages of reduced lunch students relative to the overall population and neighboring schools.  In Rhode Island as a whole, 6.6% of students are eligible for reduced lunches.  According to the 2009-2010 federal Common Core of Data, most RI charters had 2 to 3 times that number.

In 2009-2012, at Citizens Elementary had 82% of its students eligible for free lunch so the percentage living is somewhere below that.  I would note that 32 Rhode Island schools, mostly in Providence, had a higher percentage of free lunch students in that year.

Similarly, The Learning Community had 71% of its students eligible for free lunch, not 90% in poverty, making them ranked 58 in free lunch rate statewide.

I would strongly encourage RIDE to report more data available broken down by only free lunch and reduced lunch eligible students, and to refrain from using the term "poverty" inaccurately.

Tom Hoffman
Providence, RI

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