Should Teachers Ignore Poverty’s Impact?

Jay Matthews:

I received a message from a young woman named Erika Owens recently that was so honest and so important to our national argument about teachers that I decided to coax responses from smart people on both sides of the issue. It is an uncomfortable topic, making it all the more important that we pick at it a bit.
Owens described her effort to join the Philadelphia Teaching Fellows program, and her reaction to the prevailing view in that organization that good teachers should be able to raise the achievement of even the poorest kids. That is my belief, and the belief of the educators I most admire. But most Americans, including Owens, think people like me are wrongly discounting the effects of poverty and thus hurting, rather than helping, the national movement to raise the level of instruction in impoverished neighborhoods.
The issue can get very personal, which might explain why I rarely hear discussions of it. It is too easy to make one side think they are being called racists and the other side think they are being called bullies. So this time, it is a debate at a distance, nobody in the same room, just sending e-mails to a nosy columnist. Owens is up first, then several people who know schools well, then me.