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Journal Issue: The Next Generation of Antipoverty Policies Volume 17 Number 2 Fall 2007

Improving the Education of Children Living in Poverty
Richard J. Murnane


The federal government could improve the education of poor children and increase their chances to escape poverty by taking three steps. First, it could strengthen educational accountability by amending the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) to make test score goals attainable and to develop meaningful goals for increasing the share of students who graduate from high school. Second, it could address the problems of lowincome students by encouraging states to strengthen high school graduation requirements so that they better reflect the skills needed for success after graduation and by also encouraging states to develop voluntary interdistrict school choice programs. Third, it could build the instructional capacity of schools to educate low-income children.

To readers familiar with the structure of American education, it may seem odd to suggest that actions by the federal government would improve the education of disadvantaged children. After all, this country has historically left the governance of public education to the states, which in turn have delegated a great deal of responsibility and power to local school districts. Washington has traditionally been relatively powerless to affect what happens in American public school classrooms. In recent years, however, things have begun to change. In the next section I describe these changes and explain why federal actions can now influence the quality of education provided to children living in poverty. I then turn to the recommendations.