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Abstract

This paper provides an overview of emerging research focused on how living in an area of concentrated poverty can impact brain development and explores some possible applications of this research to education policy. One of the key findings is that state and federal policy-makers may need to adopt programs that integrate educational policy with housing and planning policy in order to protect and fulfill each child's educational rights. In order to impress upon readers the scale of the nation's current educational failures and the need for a significant change in policy, this paper first addresses adult illiteracy in the United States. After defining functional illiteracy according to metrics derived from the National Adult Literacy Survey, this paper then explores the various ways in which high rates of functional illiteracy negatively impact our society. The negative effects of living in an area of concentrated poverty, which correlates with functional illiteracy, and the difficulty inherent in escaping such areas of concentrated poverty are also briefly examined. The paper then proceeds to discuss the evolution of educational rights, and how federal and state courts have interpreted state obligations to provide a fair, equal, and meaningful opportunity to a sound basic education. The paper also examines the effectiveness of various remedies instituted as a result of successful education litigation. This discussion aims to establish not only the existence of educational rights, but also the inadequacy of previous efforts to implement and enforce such rights. The key problem identified in the paper is that previous approaches to effectuate educational rights, including court-ordered remedies, have failed to account for circumstantial factors relating to the socio-economic conditions within particular school districts. Finally, the paper provides an overview of emerging neuroscience research related to cognitive development and socioeconomic status, which illustrates how the circumstances in which a child is raised can significantly inhibit that child's educational opportunities. While the field of neuroscience has only just begun to investigate the effects of socioeconomic status, including both family and community wealth, on brain development and function, preliminary studies indicate a correlation between socioeconomic status and some aspects of brain development which may have an impact on student performance in typical school settings.