School communities in high-income neighborhoods can be characterized by the relationships between teachers, parents, and students. Within this triangle, children are learning through multiple pathways that enable them to make academic progress inside and out of school.
In low-income communities, the triangle is broken. Our system focuses exclusively on the interaction between teachers and students, writing off parents as unwilling or unable to help. The result is akin to a two-legged stool. Students in low-income communities lack continuous access to learning at home and school, resulting in slow progress during the schoolyear and chronic regressions over the summer. Research finds that two-thirds of the achievement gap among high school students is attributable to summer learning loss in elementary school.
Connecting the dots from elementary school to adulthood tells a sobering story. A student who cannot read on grade level by 4th grade is four times more likely to drop out of high school than his or her proficiently reading peer. Add poverty to the mix, and a student is 13 times more likely to drop out. Only 13% of Philadelphia 4th graders are reading proficiently; not coincidentally, only 10% of Philadelphians earn a college degree. Low educational attainment translates into underemployment and financial hardship. Philadelphia’s adult illiteracy rate of 22% matches precisely the city’s poverty rate of 22%.