Volkman: Poverty affects education

Sentinel photo by JULIANNE CAHILL
Dr. David Volkman, executive deputy secretary of education, addresses Juniata County School District staff during a professional development day, held Wednesday at Juniata High School.

MIFFLINTOWN — Americans are becoming more segregated economically, putting many public school students at a disadvantage.

Dr. David Volkman, executive deputy secretary of the state department of education, spoke to Juniata County educators on Wednesday about the correlation between socioeconomic factors and academic achievement.

Volkman said poverty is prevalent in rural Pennsylvania, and research has shown poverty as the most relevant factor in determining the outcome of a person’s educational journey.

He cited the Program for International Student Assessment, which measures 15-year-old students’ academic proficiency. The United States ranks “below the middle,” Volkman said. At the top of the list is Finland, where 5 percent of students live in poverty. In the U.S., that number is 25 percent.

“When you take scores of U.S. kids in that 5 percent they outperform everyone in the world,” Volkman said.

Volkman spoke about the ability of government to respond to the needs of society, saying it “will be really tested.”

He said Pennsylvania “has one of the worst” percentages of public education funding. Improvements in that area can help more students leave school with the skills they need to join the workforce.

Teachers also can make changes in their classrooms to empower economically disadvantaged students.

“You do make an incredible difference,” Volkman told teachers. “You are engaged in the most important profession.”

He spoke about personalizing learning by using competency-based benchmarks. If students don’t “get it,” teachers must help them learn until they “get it,” he said. Students should not move through the educational system based on age or hours spent in the classroom.

Personalized learning means engaging students in their own success, he said. That doesn’t mean “everyone does their own thing.” Volkman said it means providing students with more ways to learn their own thing.

He encouraged educators to inspire and engage one another, “guiding all of our children into a brighter future.”