Foundations and Assessment of Education/Edition 1/Foundations Table of Contents/Sample Wiki Article 2

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Poverty: Leaving Students Behind[edit | edit source]

By Lauren Roth

Learning Targets[edit | edit source]

Students should be able to:

a) Explain the ways in which poverty goes beyond financial issues.

b) Identify the effects of poverty.

c) Describe strategies to reduce the effects of poverty in the classroom.

Introduction[edit | edit source]

The scenario of a child bringing an apple to his favorite teacher is an iconic symbol of education. But in many schools today, that scene is more likely to be reversed. Many teachers bring snacks, school supplies and even clothing to their classrooms to help the students who don't have everything they need at home.

As teachers, we want to provide the same high-quality education to all their students. But each child comes to the classroom with a different background. That requires teachers and schools to be prepared to teach all kinds of students.

Students in poverty often lack the same health care and early childhood experiences of their wealthier peers. They are exposed to more violence and have fewer material resources, such as books and computers (Gerstl-Pepin, 2006).

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services defines poverty for a family of four as an annual income of $21,200 or below. For a family of two, an income of $14,000 is considered poverty level (Federal Register, 2008).

To think about how much this is, a full-time worker earning $6.00 an hour and working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year would earn $12,480.

Families are considered low-income at up to twice the poverty level, the amount considered necessary to cover basic needs. Nationwide, 38 percent of children live in low-income families (Gerstl-Pepin, 2006).

Why It Matters[edit | edit source]

Because poverty is not just a financial issue, it reaches into children's lives in many ways. These differences mean that poor children can come to class hungry, distracted or unprepared. They may not have enough food, lack necessary glasses or have unfinished homework because they didn't have a quiet place to complete it.

According to the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics (2007), poverty affects the overall well-being of children, from health to behavior, to social environment and education.

Lower-class children have more hearing problems, more distracting toothaches, higher exposure to IQ-damaging lead paint and are more likely to have vitamin deficiencies associated with lower test scores and cognitive problems (Rothstein, 2004).

Every child is different, of course. But on average, children born into poverty are less prepared for school.

The differences start early. For example, children who have been regularly read to are at an advantage when they begin school. However, parents with lower incomes read to their young children less often.

How many students in each school and division in Virginia qualify for free and reduced lunches because of low incomes? To explore and compare, click here: Free and Reduced Price Lunch Program Eligibility Reports by School Year

In 2005, 50 percent of children in families with incomes below the poverty level read to their three- to five-year-olds daily. Among children in families with incomes from 100 to 199 percent of the poverty level, 60 percent were read to every day. And in families with incomes double the poverty level or above, 65 percent were read to daily (Federal Interagency Forum, 2007).

Teachers need to be aware of the difficulties their students face so they can do everything in their power to help them learn.

It's not just a matter of what's right, but what is legally required. The federal No Child Left Behind act measures the performance of all children. But it also specifically holds schools accountable for the test scores of smaller groups called subgroups. Economically disadvantaged students are one of those subgroups. Special education students, English-language learners and minority groups including African-Americans and Hispanics are some of the others. If only the low-income students in a school performed poorly on a state test, the school could be labeled as failing.

According to Anyon and Greene (2007), the law does this because of the implicit assumption that academic achievement is the route out of poverty.

What Schools Can Do[edit | edit source]

Poverty comes from outside the schoolhouse, but there are a number of different approaches schools and teachers can take to lessen its impact in the classroom.

Richard Rothstein says that while schools cannot completely overcome the influence of social class, excellent schools can offset these differences. High-quality summer and afterschool programs and early childhood education are school-related offerings that can narrow the achievement gap (Rothstein 2004).

Individual teachers and schools can make a large difference as well.

Students from low-income backgrounds who feel unconnected to school are more likely to drop out (Board on Children, Youth and Families, 2003). Therefore, it is essential to help students feel engaged with their schools, especially at the high school level. That is because most dropouts leave school during their high school years.

The most important way to make students want to come to school is through engaging teaching. Research shows that teaching literature through disconnected sections of a textbook is not the most effective or engaging technique. Instead, students should be able to debate important ideas, work in small groups and perform reading and writing tasks connected to the real world (Board on Children, 2003).

For example, in one of the classrooms I observed, sixth-graders learned about persuasive writing by developing their own commercials for products they created. The students worked in small groups and were very excited about the assignment.

Gerstl-Pepin (2006) documented a school that nearly doubled the reading scores of students after a major reform effort. All the students in the school qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. At that school, teachers worked to create a caring community. Students who acted out were kept in the classroom to learn instead of being kicked out. They did this by educating students about expected classroom behavior alongside reading and writing (Gerstl-Pepin, 2006).

While parental involvement is an essential part of student success, parents in low-income families don't always have time or transportation to directly visit their children's schools (Gerstl-Pepin). Some educators who understand this try to reach out to families in other ways.

In Virginia Beach, Larry Ames, the principal of Seatack Elementary, personally visits parents at their homes to talk to them about the importance of education.

Noguera (2003) says the most successful schools not only support good teaching and learning, they work to address problems that face their students outside school. "Such schools find ways to provide coats to children in the winter and additional food to children who don't eat regularly at home," (Noguera, 2003). They hire capable and dedicated staff, offer a coherent vision and have high expectations for their students.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

While poverty can mean a lack of money, it also affects a child's life in many ways. Teachers and schools should understand why some children don't come to school ready to learn every day.

The performance differences between students living in poverty and their peers can be narrowed by techniques including engaging teaching and outreach into the community.

Believing in students is the key, according to Pedro Noguera.

"The possibility for better education exists because children are fundamentally educable and capable of learning at high levels," (Noguera 2003).

Sources[edit | edit source]

Anyon, J., & Greene, K. (2007, Spring). No Child Left Behind as an Anti-Poverty Measure. Teacher Education Quarterly 34(2), 157-62.

Board on Children, Youth and Families. (2003). Engaging Schools: Fostering High School Students' Motivation to Learn. Washington: The National Academies Press.

Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics. (2007). America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being. Retrieved May 26, 2008 from

Federal Register. (2008, Jan 23). 73(15), 3971–3972.

Gerstl-Pepin, Cynthia I. (2006, Jan). The Paradox of Poverty Narratives: Educators Struggling With Children Left Behind. Educational Policy, 20, 143-162.

Noguera, Pedro. (2003). City Schools and the American Dream: Reclaiming the Promise of Public Education. New York: Teachers College Press.

Payne, Ruby. (1996, March). Understanding and Working with Students and Adults from Poverty. Instructional Leader IX (2).

Rothstein, Richard. (2004). Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic, and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap. Washington: Economic Policy Institute.

Questions[edit | edit source]

1. Which of these families would be considered to be living in poverty?

  a) A family of four with an annual income of $25,000.
  b) A family of four with an annual income of $20,000.
  c) A family of two with an annual income of $25,000.
  d) A family of two with an annual income of $20,000.

2. Which set of characteristics is more prevalent among low-income children?

  a) Toothaches, braces, candy cravings.
  b) More TV watching, more exposure to violence, early reading.
  c) Less exposure to reading, more exposure to violence, poor nutrition.
  d) Poor nutrition, candy cravings, more TV watching.

3. Why does the No Child Left Behind act track the test scores of low-income children?

  a) To make low-income parents happy.
  b) To give students a route out of poverty.
  c) Because it's a requirement of state law.
  d) To hold schools accountable for student performance.

4. Which one of these techniques could improve a student's engagement with a class?

  a) An ice cream social.
  b) Time to cool off in the library after talking back to a teacher.
  c) Illustrating a book on a poster with a small group.
  d) A free pair of mittens in the winter.

5. Dunbar Elementary wants to help combat poverty outside the school walls. Which approach is most likely to succeed?

  a) A traveling dental clinic on a school bus.
  b) A special parent night held at the school.
  c) A fund-raiser for the homeless.
  d) Offering larger school lunch portions.

Answers[edit | edit source]

1. b) The poverty level for a family of four is $21,200 or below; 2. c); 3. d); 4. c); 5. a)