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Poverty not merely an "excuse" to be reformed away

By John Published: July 25, 2011

Gary Ravani, a recent guest author on the Washington Post's Answer Sheet blog,  discusses a 2008 study by the Alameda County (Oakland, California) Health Department. The study, "Life and Death From Unnatural Causes,"  documents health disparities based on neighborhood, income and race. Ravani takes a swipe at "no excuses"  school reformers who argue that poverty is not an excuse for teachers whose students fail standardized tests.

In '' Life and Death,'' the factors of family wealth, environmental issues (exposure to lead), lack of access to health care in so many words the conditions of poverty result in a ''life expectancy gap.'' Children, overwhelmingly minority children, born in the flats of Oakland ''can expect to die almost 15 years earlier than a white person born in the Oakland Hills.'' The same results have been indicated by the Census lifespan data. A recent study on AIDS find concentrations of the disease in geographic concentrations of the poor in the southern states.

It appears that the medical experts doing the research for this study didn't realize that using the conditions of poverty found in economically segregated communities to explain different life span outcomes is really all a matter of ''making excuses.'' They should have known that dying early results from the ''soft bigotry of low expectations.''

There are those who will argue that there is no established causal relationship between conditions that contribute to poor life expectancy rates and the conditions that contribute to low school achievement; that conditions that can grind 15 years off a child's life span don't also grind off abilities to succeed in school. Such arguments are the ''hard bigotry'' of ideology.

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