Investigating Critical & Contemporary Issues in Education/Challenges of Poverty

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Pam Lewis

Chapter 3: Poverty

Camden Campus

Meeting the challenges of poverty and understanding how poverty relates to and impacts student academic achievement requires much more from teachers than just teaching but rather an understanding of social awareness as well as a level of empathy and genuine concern for students and their families. What will help us achieve this level of understanding further is to grasp where our achievement gaps are with lower income students as well as how to effectively reach them and provide opportunities for their growth and progress.

In order to successfully and effectively begin to meet the challenges that poverty presents to modern education, we must first understand and change our social knowledge and, perhaps more importantly, our social perception of what poverty is. The literal definition of poverty is “being poor; need, scarcity or lack”. With the overall unemployment rate of 7.2%, a 15 year high according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, many families really are just a paycheck away from poverty. This reality, I feel, has led to more acceptance and understanding in respect to our myth of the culture of poverty; however, there are still many misconceptions of low income learners. Some of those misconceptions include being lazy, live on welfare, are wasteful, abuse drugs and alcohol, more prone to violence and do not value education (Surridge, 2008). These misconceptions have all been proven wrong and many times are perpetuated by parents, police and the media. Many individuals who do collect welfare do so for only a short time as the result of having lost their job. “Despite popular notions that so much of the US budget is spent on welfare, less than 1% goes toward welfare (Surridge, 2008).

New measures for poverty that take into account the costs of housing, food, other necessities, transportation for work and federal income/payroll taxes suggest that the rate of poverty is significantly higher than that suggested by the official measure (Hernandez, Denton & Macartney, 2009). Many school districts are seeing the number of low income students doubling, as many as 1/10 students being homeless. It is not hard; therefore, to see that homelessness and unemployment are “enormous complexities facing public schools in our country” (Thomas, 2009) and that teachers must learn to cross social boundaries to make learning meaningful and relevant for all students.

Early intervention programs can minimize the negative impacts of poverty on students’ development and learning (Isikoglu & Ivrendi, 2007). Since the enactment of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in 1965, various federal programs have been created to support education improvement and target additional resources to meet the education needs of children who are economically and educationally disadvantaged (Chambers & et al, 2009). While schools rely on many of these programs to supplement their budgets, it would appear that much of the level of funding has become stagnant and does not change fast enough in respect to cost of living expenses. For example, “… at the school level, Title I funding per low-income student in the highest poverty schools remained unchanged from 1997-98 to 2004-05” (Chambers & et al, 2009).

How do we solve this? What do we do to narrow the achievement gap for low income students? Perhaps our answer is closer to home than we think. While federal programs and budgets are indeed critical in respect to providing the funding schools need, the “…single most important ingredient that has an effect on student achievement is the quality of the teacher in the classroom…” (Thomas, 2009). Appreciating this, it makes sense that our mission as teacher professionals, our solution is in the teacher education program itself as well as in the selection and retention of good teachers. How do we measure good teachers? Perhaps we adopt the philosophy of unique talent and ability and recognize that teaching as a profession is much more than about teaching~~it requires the ability to create and foster relationships with people. Good teachers care about the well being of each individual student and they receive intrinsic satisfaction from watching students develop and reach their potential. No, it’s no longer just teaching a process but rather providing a level of care for people that extends beyond the school walls and school hours and fosters an environment in each classroom of community and high expectations for all students so that teachers may “move students to higher levels of accomplishment without using poverty, race or gender as an excuse for students not to achieve” (Surridge, 2008).

Within the teacher education program, we must look at ways to identify the talent and ability of candidates applying to the teaching profession so that the selection process, and therefore the retention of teachers, begins here rather than after graduation when so many times school in desperate need of teachers and just needing a position filled are perhaps not giving their own selection process their highest priority in respect to the best person for that position. Factors that seem to contribute to teachers staying in high-poverty urban schools, besides a state scholarship program, include a high sense of mission which was reinforced and developed by the teacher education program and a disposition for hard work and persistence which was reinforced and developed by the teacher education program…and ongoing support from members of the teacher cohort as well as other supportive professional networks (Freedman & Appleman, 2009). 54.1% of participants in a Department of Teacher Education program were not satisfied with the program because they argued that the programs failed to meet practical demands in different everyday situations of the classroom…(Payne, 2008).

“Molding the next greatest generation of Americans is exciting but also a huge responsibility. There are many demands of time and accountability placed on teachers and we have to appreciate that and make them feel valued in the compensation they receive. This will not be achieved by enacting furloughs (time off without pay) which has been the most recent response by schools reacting to state and national budget cuts in education. This certainly is going to affect turnover in a profession where stability, especially for students where school may be their only stability in the day, is paramount.

Once inside the classroom, teachers can meet the needs of low income students by making them feel ok and by not lowering their expectations of what those students can achieve. While there are many successful programs which include free meals, transportation, free school supplies as well as extensive support for parents, the consistent response that I found from teachers and what they believe makes the most significant impact in narrowing the achievement gap for low income students is to hold them to the same standards as any other student in their classroom.


1. Surridge, C (2008). The Education of Diverse Student Populations.

2. Thomas (2009). Education: A Global Perspective.

3. Hernandez, D., Denton, N., & Macartney, S. (2009). Children in Immigrant Families. ERIC-Education Resources Information Center, Child Trends, 22

4. Isikoglu, N. & Ivrendi, A. (2007). A Way Of Reaching Children Of Poverty. ERIC-Education Resources Information Center, 49, 225-242.

5. Chambers, J., Lam, I., Mahitivanichcha, K., Esra, P., Shambaugh, L., & Stullich, S. (2009). State and Local Implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act. ERIC-Education Resources Information Center. US Dept of Education

6. Freedman, S. & Appleman, D. (2009). In It For The Long Haul: How Teacher Education Can Contribute To Teacher Retention in High-Poverty Urban Schools. ERIC-Education Resources Information Center, 60, 323-337.

7. Payne, R. (2008). Nine Powerful Practices. ERIC-Education Resources Information Center, 65, 48-52.

Kayla Wilson

Brunswick Campus

Chapter 3: Poverty

One of the many problems that face our nation today is poverty. Poverty in the United States is cyclical; roughly twelve to seventeen percent of the US population is below the poverty line at any given time, and up to 40% will fall below in a ten year span. In 2007, 14.3% of the United States population was below the poverty line (United States Census Bureau, 2009). The impact of poverty is seen in many places; however, one of the more evident places is in the classroom. Even though it is extremely difficult for a child to perform at the required level when facing so many problems at home, poverty is no excuse for a child to not succeed in academics. Students can neither be excused nor scolded for not knowing, but as educators it is our job to provide support and make sure they overcome their obstacles and meet expectations. Being in poverty is rarely a lack of intelligence or ability; two things that will help bring one out of poverty are education and relationships (Payne, 1996). Although poverty tends to haunt generations, solid relationships and a sound educational background can open a new successful pathway.

For an individual student, the most common way to define poverty is by whether or not the student receives free or reduced lunch. In order for a child to receive free or reduced lunch, their parents’ income must fall under a certain amount. For example, for a child in a family of four to receive reduced school lunches their parents’ salary must be less than $40,793. For that same child to receive free school lunches their parents’ salary must be less than $28,665 (Georgia Department of Education, 2008). A large amount of research shows that students who are eligible for free or reduced lunches are more at risk for academic failure. A high concentration of low income learners seems to have a negative effect on students, teachers, and the school. However, low income students in low poverty schools score better than low income students in high poverty schools. Low income learners do better academically in a classroom where the majority of the students are economically advantaged. The one factor that leads to higher achievement for low income students is the availability of skilled teachers. Students are most likely to be successful when they are enrolled in classes with both low and high income learners in socioeconomically diverse schools (Department, 2001).

There are roughly 73 million children in the United States and 39% of them live in low in-come families. This day in age school is not being taught or conducted in the same ways it has in the past. More and more students are bringing poverty culture with them to school, and fewer students are bringing middle class culture. Education is the key to getting children out of poverty and breaking the tradition of generational poverty. School is basically the only place a low income, impoverished student can learn the middle class culture. When former impoverished students who have successfully climbed their way to middle class are asked how their journey was made, nine out of ten times their answer has to do with a teacher, counselor, coach, or some other kind of relationship where a role model has made an impact on their life. These role models face many difficulties when dealing with impoverished students. They see children come into their classroom hungry from not eating at home, tired from not being able to get enough rest, frustrated, and violated. There are ways around these problems all while keeping high expectations for the students. The first thing a teacher should do is learn about their students’ background and where they come from. Getting in touch with his or her parents thru email or phone is crucial. Getting such background information early on is helpful throughout the year. Next, a teacher should establish and enforce high expectations. All students can learn, however each learn at their own individual level and pace. Teachers should constantly remind their students of the expectations they have for them and also let them know they believe and have faith in their ability. External challenges should never be an excuse in the classroom. Finally, teachers should adapt to student challenges. Each child faces a different life after they leave the classroom; each one goes home to a different family with different backgrounds. High expectations should be set for all students, but different solutions should be in place for those children who need extra help meeting their goals. A teacher’s job is not always easy, but always worth the time and effort put forth (Hougan, 2009).

Although many problems face the students of this nation, one of the most prominent problems is poverty. Poverty not only affects children in their homes, but also spills over to affect their academic achievement. Poverty is no excuse for a student to not excel and achieve their goals. Education is the one thing that can bring a child out of poverty and take them into a middle class society. Without education this nation would be completely impoverished. It is our responsibility as teachers to be role models impoverished children can look up to in order to set higher goals for themselves.

Bibliography Contributors, W. (2009, August 25). Wikipedia. Retrieved August 30, 2009, from Poverty in the United States:

Department, W. E. (2001, March 12). Retrieved August 31, 2009, from The Impact of Poverty Upon Schools:

Georgia Department of Education. (2008). Retrieved August 30, 2009, from School Nutrition: Free and Reduced Lunch Price Policy:

Hougan, E. (2009). The Apple. Retrieved August 30, 2009, from How to Address Poverty in the Classroom

Payne, R. K. (1996). A Framework for Understanding Poverty. Highlands, TX: aha! Process, Inc. .

Payne, R. K. (2001). The Framework for Understanding Poverty. Highlands, TX: aha! Process, Inc.

United States Census Bureau. (2009, August 18). Retrieved August 29, 2009, from Georgia Quick Facts from the US Census Bureau: 2009

Brittany Douglas

Brunswick Campus

Chapter 3: Poverty

In January 2009, the United States was ranked highest in childhood poverty in all the nations (Smith, 2009). Many people do not fully understand poverty. So what is poverty? There are many different definitions. The most common definition in the Webster New Spanish-English Dictionary is: the state or condition of having little or no money, goods, or means of support (2002). According to the WCPSS, the poverty level of an individual student is based on whether or not the student is eligible to receive free or reduced-price lunch (1999). The poverty level of a school is determined by the percentage of students eligible or not eligible to receive free or reduced lunch (WCPSS, 1999). Poverty will affect over one-third of American’s during their childhood (Jones, 2007). Researchers’ have found that there is a circle between poverty and low education (Human Rights Facts, 2008). Several studies have shown childhood poverty to be associated with poor performance in academics, lower IQ scores, and an increased risk of dropping out of school (Jones, 2007). How do we break this ongoing circle? Teachers are a significant importance to poverty children and can help overcome the challenges of poverty. Educators must be able to overcome the challenges of poverty including the diversity in the classrooms, achievement gaps between the students, and the motivation of students learning.

Our nation’s classrooms are more diverse than ever before. Diversity is not only a challenge for teachers, but also the students. The challenge for the teacher is to provide the children with an efficient multicultural education that will further awareness, respect, and acceptance (Pellino, 2007). The students living conditions and their life experiences have a great impact on their education. High-mobility and irregular school attendance are just a few of the symptoms of poverty (Pellino, 2007). Along with these symptoms some teachers may notice that children dealing with poverty are more aware of economy at a young age. Students learning about cultural differences at an early age will help their understanding over the years. As students get older, teachers may include community service learning projects in the curriculum, to help further the student’s knowledge (Pellino, 2007). Real-life problem solving and learning experiences will help students use their strengths, skills, and knowledge to develop a desire to learn. Teachers can stop diversity by helping the children become more understanding and accepting of other cultures.

Achievement gap is the difference in academic performance among children from different classes or groups (Pellino, 2007). Studies have shown children of poverty achieve at lower levels than children of middle and upper classes (Research Watch, 1999). Why is this? Two of the main reasons are the social environment and the education the children receive in school (Spagnoli, 2008). Some of the influences on student achievement include: quality of student learning behaviors, home environment, past experiences with education, and the teacher’s attitude toward the student (Pallino, 2007). Researchers believe this can change, and all students can succeed if pushed to achieve their full potential. Teachers should be knowledgeable of each student’s culture. This will help the teacher to plan useful and interesting lessons. Effective teaching is the key to closing the achievement gaps (Pellino, 2007). Another challenge of poverty is the student’s motivation to learn. Children of poverty face many emotional issues throughout their lifetime. These issues are usually very stressful and may cause depression or anxiety (Pellino, 2007). Most poverty children often lack emotional security, and self-esteem (Pellino, 2007). Low or no self-esteem can take the motivation to learn out of children. The teacher should start by helping the student rebuild his or her self-esteem. A teacher may build a trusting relationship with each student, to help the student feel important and loved. The goal is for the child to feel secure and good about themselves. Finding the positive in the negative is also very important for a teacher to remember, when teaching a poverty child. Negative criticism can cause poverty children to tune teachers out. The teacher’s responsibility is to make learning an enjoyable, interesting experience.

Poverty effects the child physically and mentally, and often develops at an early age. Teachers should provide support to encourage the student and their families. Parental involvement should be encouraged to help their children succeed. Early education for children will help reduce child poverty, as well as, improve a child’s health (Smith, Fauth, & Gunn, 2009). School funding should be equal in every school throughout the United States, so each child will have the resources necessary to promote the best possible learning experience. Teachers should create activities and lessons that will encourage and build the student’s self esteem. Poverty should not be an excuse for a teacher to expect less from the student. Focus on the students learning and find ways to help them overcome these difficult challenges. The key to ending the vicious circle of poverty is through a good education (Spagnoli, 2008).


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Jones, K (September 06, 2007). Poverty's Effect on Childhood Academic Achievement.

Pellino, K (2007). The Effects of Poverty on Teaching and Learning.

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