You think your student is well off? The principal doesn't

Compiled by Nicole Shepard, Deseret News National Edition

Published: Fri, Aug. 1, 2014, 4:00 a.m. MDT

 More than 60 percent of students are disadvantaged, according to their principals.

More than 60 percent of students are disadvantaged, according to their principals.

(Getty Images)

American principals believe their student populations are more economically disadvantaged than they actually are, according to a new study released by the OECD.

“More so than any of the other 29 countries in the study, principals in American schools believe that many of their students come from socio-economically disadvantaged homes,” David Leonhardt of The New York Times wrote.

More American principals see their students as socio-economically disadvantaged than those in Brazil, Malaysia, Mexico and Romania.

OECD conducted the survey because, “Compensating for students’ socio-economic disadvantage is one of the greatest challenges facing teachers, school leaders and education systems as a whole,” the research said.

The survey found that over 60 percent of American principals believe that over 30 percent of their student body lives below the poverty line, when in reality the number is closer to 13 percent.

The U.S. is not the only well-off country to assume its student population is set up for failure due to poverty. France and Israel both have relatively low levels of poverty in their schools at 11 and 7 percent respectively. France and Israel both assumed that around 45 percent of their students were socio-economically disadvantaged.

When compared to Brazil’s 58 percent and Mexico’s 56 percent living in poverty, the U.S. and Israel look well-off.

“A child considered poor in the United States or Israel may be regarded as relatively wealthy in another country,” Andreas Schleicher, head of OECD’s PISA testing, said. “But the fact that the perceived problem of socio-economic disadvantage among students is so much greater in the United States — and in France too — than the actual backgrounds of students also suggests that what school principals in some countries consider to be social disadvantage would not be considered such in others.”

The fact that poverty functions differently in America than it does in Malaysia or Brazil isn’t lost on OECD. Schleicher’s concern is in line with what former President George W. Bush called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

“The problem may not be the poverty itself,” Schleicher said, “but the perception of it. The expectation of students living in poverty is that they aren’t likely to succeed. When this is the assumption, educators try less. This attitude toward students erodes the effectiveness of education.”

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1. gmlewis
Houston, TX,
Aug. 1, 2014

As I looked at how the different countries appear on the attached graph, it looks like this perception of poverty actually matches the overall optimism/pessimism levels of each country as a whole.

For example, Brazilians are naturally optimistic, and this corresponds with their high standing on the graph. I studiously avoid saying that Americans are suffering from malaise, but if the shoe fits, wear it.

2. Orem Parent
Orem, UT,
Aug. 1, 2014

The problem is we give free or reduced lunch to many kids in the USA. Principals would call that coming from a disadvantaged home when in reality most of the time it isn't that way at all.

3. BU52
Provo, ut,
Aug. 1, 2014

First it may be because principals are so highly paid that their perception of poverty is relative to themselves. But secondly it pays off to have poorer students, more government grants and other goodies for the poor and of course its a great excuse for poor performance in the schools

4. Kings Court
Alpine, UT,
Aug. 1, 2014

If a parent can't afford to pay for the lunch of their own child at school and must apply to get a free or reduced lunch, I would say they are poor. The analogy that a poor family in America or Israel would be rich in some other countries is completely illogical. The cost of living in this country is specific to this country. Yes, a homeless child might be lucky to have a car to sleep in America as compared to an African homeless child that doesn't have a the luxury of a car to sleep in, but let's face it, our societal and educational construct will make it very difficult for disadvantaged kids to succeed even though they would be living like royalty in Mali.

5. Howard Beal
Provo, UT,
Aug. 1, 2014

What is exactly highly paid?

I think administrator pay is comparable to what you would find in the private sector for the responsibilities that they have. Some include managing budgets, supervising sometimes up to 150 employees, fund raising, meeting with parents, students, counselors, psychologists, social workers, business leaders and community leaders etc.,

P.S. I'm not a public school administrator but just someone who actually likes to keep things in perspective. And perspective would actually say that for the responsibilities these individuals have, they are probably underpaid if anything.