Poverty and Education

A brief published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development in the United States highlights the extent of poverty amongst school children and its effects on their learning and the school resources available to them.

The brief shows that over 20 per cent of children in the US live in poverty, but there are huge differences between different social groups. Nearly 40 per cent of Black children, 37 per cent of American Indian children and 33 per cent of Hispanic children live in poverty compared to 14 per cent of white children.

Living in poverty has significant impacts on learning. Fewer than half of children living in poverty are school ready at age 5, meaning they lack early math and reading skills, exhibit learning and behaviour problems, and have poor overall physical health.

Children from families with incomes at or below the poverty line are much less likely to reach proficiency on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) than their wealthier peers. For example, only 20 per cent of children eligible for free school lunches in Grade 8 achieved reading and mathematics proficiency compared to nearly 50 per cent of other children.

Over 22 per cent of children who have ever lived in poverty do not graduate from high school, compared to only six per cent of those who have never been poor.

Schools serving high poverty populations in the US offer much less opportunities to students than those in wealthy areas. The teacher turnover rate is 50 per cent higher in high-poverty schools than in more affluent ones. In 23 states, state and local governments are together spending less per student in the poorest school districts than they are in the most affluent school districts.

Students in high-poverty schools have less access to rigorous courses in a variety of subjects, including the arts, than their more affluent peers. Schools with at least 75 per cent of the student population living in poverty offer one-third the number of Advanced Placement courses that wealthier schools offer.

High-poverty schools are also more likely to struggle with issues such as absenteeism and truancy, bullying and other discipline issues. Children in poverty experience greater chronic stress than their more affluent peers, which makes school engagement more challenging.

Students in poverty are less likely to have informal relationships with adults – including those across the school community such as nurses, counsellors, and coaches – which are crucial to creating a support network; navigating the college application process; and helping students find volunteer, internship, and work opportunities.

Children in poverty have more untreated ear infections and hearing loss issues, experience a higher incidence of asthma, and are exposed to food with lower nutritional value than children from wealthier families.

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