Foundations and Assessment of Education/Edition 1/Foundations Table of Contents/Chapter 5/5.1.2

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Learning Targets:

• Understand the United States government's definition of poverty.

• Evaluate the potential academic disadvantages a child faces living in impoverished conditions.

• Identify basic tenets of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002.


There are innumerable definitions of the word poverty. Merriam Webster Dictionary (2008) defines poverty as, "the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions." The World Bank (2008) elaborately states, "Poverty is hunger. Poverty is lack of shelter. Poverty is being sick and not being able to see a doctor. Poverty is not having access to school and not knowing how to read..." Both definitions offer a very broad sense of the word poverty, but fail to address specific financial requirements that make one impoverished. The United States Census Bureau (2008) however, uses very clear "income thresholds" to determine which U.S. citizens live below the poverty line. "Income thresholds" are simply minimum earned income requirements that increase as family size increases (U.S. Census Bureau, 2008). Figure 1 illustrates the aforementioned “income thresholds:"

The U.S. Census Bureau (2008), using the data found in Figure 1, declares those families whose income lies below their respective "income threshold," as living below the poverty line. Poverty continues to be an increasing concern in the United States. As of 2007, the United States had a poverty rate of 12.5 percent, up from 12.3 percent in 2006 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2008). Nearly 37.3 million people fell below the poverty level, up from 36.5 million in 2006 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2008). The most sobering statistic however must be an overall increase in poverty among children under the age of 18, from 17.4 percent in 2006 to 18.0 percent in 2008 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2008). The state of Virginia specifically, had a 13 percent child poverty rate, ranking 40th overall in 2007 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2008).


According to Bjorn Nordtveit (2008), contributor to the International Journal of Educational Development, and professor at the University of Hong Kong, many children fall into "so-called poverty ‘traps’ which narrow the schooling opportunities of children from poor families" (p. 411). He argues that poor students may not perform as well in class as their wealthier contemporaries due to malnutrition, inadequate parental support for education, and a lack of proper school supplies (Nordtveit, p. 411). Poor calorie intake paired with inadequate parental support, "compromises [students'] learning abilities from the start," and ultimately makes poor children greater "candidates for early drop-out and low retention of skills learned during the time they attend school" (Nordtveit, p. 411). Nordtveit (2008) also makes the connection that poor children, "tend to socialize with other children and young people who are in the same situation," (p. 411) creating a social permanence to the idea that academic and financial improvement is improbable.

Nordtveit's concerns seem to be echoed by Ms. Wendy Kopp, author of Building the Movement to End Educational Inequity as she writes, "the stark reality in our nation today is that the 13 million children growing up below the poverty line are already three grade levels behind children in high-income communities by the time they are 9 years old" (p. 734). Kopp (2008) even recognizes that nearly half of those students that manage to graduate high school, "are performing, on average, at the level of eighth-graders who live in affluent communities" (p. 734). Nordtveit and Kopp seem to argue that there is an unmistakable connection between poverty and academic success. Considering that 18.0 percent of U.S. citizens under the age of 18 live below the poverty line, modern teachers are becoming more readily aware of this connection, utilizing government education initiatives to help disadvantaged children.



In January 2002, U.S. lawmakers passed the No Child Left Behind Act, attempting to, "ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging state academic achievement standards and state academic assessments" (Public Law 107-110, SECT 1001 2002). Lawmakers specifically focused on, "closing the achievement gaps... between minority and nonminority students, and between disadvantaged children and their more advantaged peers" (Public Law 107-110, A3, 2002). The U.S. government therefore allocated significant monies to state governments intended for the school districts and families most in need of educational and financial assistance. (Public Law 107-110, 2002) Figure 2 below shows the specific amounts the federal government disseminated yearly.


$13,500,000,000 for fiscal year 2002

$16,000,000,000 for fiscal year 2003

$18,500,000,000 for fiscal year 2004

$20,500,000,000 for fiscal year 2005

$22,750,000,000 for fiscal year 2006

$25,000,000,000 for fiscal year 2007

(Note. From PUBLIC LAW 107–110—JAN. 8, 2002)

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, state governments are required to follow strict federal guidelines in order to become eligible for financial assistance (Public Law 107-110, 2002). One such requirement was the consolidation of testing, such that each state demonstrated that its schools had uniformly, "implemented a set of high quality, yearly student academic assessments that include, at a minimum, academic assessments in mathematics, reading or language arts, and science[s]" (Public Law 107-110, 2002). The results of the yearly academic assessments ultimately help the federal government determine the overall academic and fiscal needs of specific states and their school districts. The No Child Left Behind Act also regulates the professional qualifications of educators in the United States. Before a state can become eligible for benefits, it must report all relevant professional and educational achievements of their educators to the Federal Government. The federal government requests to know if each "teacher has met state qualification and licensing criteria for the grade levels and subject areas in which the teacher provides instruction" (Public Law 107-110, 2002). It requests to know if, "the teacher is teaching under emergency or other provisional status through which state qualifications or licensing criteria have been waived" (Public Law 107-110, 2002). It requires information regarding "the baccalaureate degree major of the teacher and any other graduate certification[s] or degree[s] held" (Public Law 107-110, 2002). Ultimately, the federal government's research determines each school district's need for degreed/licensed teachers and/or funding.

The No Child Left Behind Act establishes strict requirements on states to regulate the quality of their schools and educators, however, it has not existed without controversy. Many scholars believe that the No Child Left Behind Act contains, "special interest pleading and ideological agendas" (Wood, p. ix). George Wood (2004), author of Many Children Left Behind: How The No Child Left Behind Act Is Damaging Our Children And Our Schools, argues that it is inappropriate for the federal government to require schools, "to turn over student contact information to the military for recruiting purposes" (p. ix) as the No Child Left Behind Act does. Wood (2004) also finds it troubling that the No Child Left Behind Act requires school districts to prove "that no policy prevents the participation in "constitutionally protected prayer in public schools"" (p. ix) before federal funding can be approved.

Wood (2004), like many scholars, also finds flaws with the fiscal layout of the No Child Left Behind Act. He believes that the federal government has grossly underestimated the funding needs of school districts in order to implement the high standards of the law (Wood, 2004). He writes, "by some estimates the current requests for funding NCLB [No Child Left Behind] from the administration fall as much as $12.5 billion dollars short of the requirements of the legislation" (Wood, p. ix). The No Child Left Behind Act is currently under congressional scrutiny for revision (Wood, 2004).


Considering that 18 percent of the youth of the United States fall below the government's definition of the poverty line, it seems imperative that educators understand the academic disadvantages caused by the unknown medical needs, inadequate parental support, and unhealthy eating habits of impoverished lifestyles. Educators must also fully understand the benefits and flaws of the No Child Left Behind Act, so that its benefits can be applied to the children most in need of its aid.


1). How many people in the United States fall below the U.S. government's definition of the poverty line?

a) 10.8 million

b) 27.2 million

c) 32.5 million

d) 37.3 million

2). How many children (percentage) in the Commonwealth of Virginia fall below the U.S. government's definition of the poverty line?

a) 5 percent

b) 8 percent

c) 13 percent

d) 26 percent

3). Mary Swanson teaches 5th grade in rural northern Virginia. She maintains a very positive classroom and attempts to motivate each student to participate in class discussions. One of her students, Jeremy Butters, is from a very poor family. He seems to struggle with staying awake in class and completing his homework assignments on time. What disadvantages might Jeremy be facing as a poor student that might be limiting his ability to succeed in the classroom?

a) Adequate parental support

b) Inappropriate / inadequate study environment

c) Malnutrition

d) Both b) and c)

4). As an educator, how might you find pertinent information regarding the effects of the No Child Left Behind Act on your own school district?

a) Access the No Child Left Behind Act on the U.S. government's education website

b) Contact your local military recruiter

c) Contact your school administrator

d) Both a) and c)

ANSWERS: d, c, d, d


Kopp, Wendy. (2008). Building the Movement to End Educational Inequity. Phi Delta Kappan, Volume 89, Issue 10, Pages 734-736. Retrieved

September 19, 2008, from

Meier, D., Kohn, A., Darling-Hammond, L., Sizer, T.R., & Wood, G. Many Children Left Behind: How The No Child Left Behind Act Is Damaging Our Children And Our Schools. Retrieved from hl=en&lr=&id=d1kerx8kPawC&oi=fnd&pg=PR7&dq=no+child+left+behind&ots=MPhcPdD9Z4&sig=dbgi8OgXbFxwNC1FSx2DGvtCfp0#PPR10,M1

National Center for Children in Poverty (2008). Measuring Income and Poverty in the United States. Retrieved September 19, 2008, from

Nordtveit, B.H. (2008). Poverty Alleviation and Integrated Service Delivery: Literacy, Early Child Development and Health. International Journal of Educational Development, Volume 28, Issue 4, Pages 405-418 . Retrieved September 19, 2008, from sid=EBSCO:ERIC&genre=article&title=International+Journal+of+Educational+Development&atitle=Poverty+Alleviation+and+Integrated+Service+Delivery% 3a+Literacy%2c+Early+Child+Development+and+Health&author=Nordtveit%2c+Bjorn+Harald&authors=Nordtveit% 2c+Bjorn+Harald&date=20080701&volume=28&issue=4&spage=405&issn=07380593

Poverty. (n.d.) In Merriam-Webster Dictionary online. Retrieved September 19, 2008, from

The World Bank (2008). PovertyNet: Understanding Poverty. Retrieved September 19, 2008,,,contentMDK:20153855~menuPK:435040~pagePK:148956~piPK:216618~theSitePK:430367,0 0.html

U.S. Census Bureau (2008). Poverty. Retrieved September 19, 2008, from

U.S. Department of Education (2008). Public Law 107-110. Retrieved from