When public schools post abysmal test scores, efforts to explain the causes are dismissed as making excuses. But I challenge critics to deny the impact of homelessness (“Homelessness in New York Public Schools Is at a Record High: 114,659 Students,” The New York Times, Oct. 16).
Although New York City has one of the highest populations of homeless students, with about 10 percent, it is hardly alone. Chicago has about 5 percent and Los Angeles just above 3 percent. In all three cities, homelessness is concentrated in schools serving the most disadvantaged students.
Teachers in those schools are forced to perform triage on a daily basis before they can begin to teach subject matter. It’s one of the reasons that so many teachers quit the profession altogether or transfer to suburban schools. The price that teachers pay is called compassion fatigue, and it’s cumulative. Social workers provide some help. But they are overwhelmed. For example, in New York City there is one social worker for every 1,660 homeless students.
Homelessness is particularly hard on children because they are most vulnerable to the hardships. Expecting them to do homework and come to school rested and nourished every day is a fantasy. That’s why I question the ability of the most dedicated teachers to do the job they were hired to do.
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