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Essay: Poverty in education

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  • Published: 15 November 2018*
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Poverty has become an important factor in whether or not they are successful in their studies. As our economy grows, education is having an impact on salaries earned. Poverty is often referred to as having low wages. As indicated by Amartya Sen in Inequality Reexamined, poverty is defined as the lack of ability to function adequately in society. By this definition, insufficient education is a form of poverty. Students coming from middle and upper-class families begin school ahead of their classmates that are from families closer to the poverty line. Education can help reduce poverty from being a vicious cycle. The more educated you are, the more likely you are to be employed and earn higher wages. However, schools in urban areas lack the resources to provide a quality education. More experienced teachers also prefer to teach in suburban areas. The effects of poverty can be reversed with proper intervention.
Keywords: education, poverty, students, teachers, income, intervention

Poverty in Education

Poverty remains to be the source of hardships financially, academically, and socially. The way that poverty levels affect the children of the world is a troubling concern. 43 percent of children are currently living in low-income homes while 21% of them are living below the financial poverty threshold set by the federal government (“NCCP | Child Poverty”, 2016). Families with no financial resources do not have access to educational supplies. Without educational resources, these families are constrained to their lives in poverty.

Concept of Poverty

Poverty is the result of not having proper resources to sustain effectively in the community (Sen,2009). This concept of poverty expands the notion that poverty is merely the lack of financial freedom. Although poverty does have direct correlations to finances, it is important to recognize the different facets of poverty and their effects. An aspect of financial income is educational output. Absolute poverty is the lack of financial necessities. This is more common in developing countries, however, it can be found often here in the United States. Absolute poverty will affect children and families as they are not able to provide themselves with materials to further their learning. These materials include a lack of books, pens/pencils or often times children will have no place to do their homework. Poor nutrition has also been found to prevent students from learning effectively. Relative poverty is pre-determined by where a family resides. Where you live typically determines the school your child will attend. Parents often choose their living arrangements based upon cost of living. Schools located in areas meant for these families typically receive little to no funding in comparison. These children will also lack the motivation to do well in school since the perception around them is that school is not important. Poverty lowers educational enrollment and restricts learning environments. To move poverty-stricken school districts in the right direction, they must develop personalized intervention strategies opposed to generalized conclusions.

Poverty in School Readiness

A child’s educational journey starts not from the first day they enter primary school, but from the moment they learn to observe their surroundings, form sentences, and make conclusions from the world around them. Their readiness for school is a clear demonstration of their likelihood to succeed emotionally, socially and academically in school. As determined by the National Education Goals Panel, a child deemed “school ready” is expected to be able to demonstrate five different dimensions of development/knowledge:

physical well-being/motor development

social/emotional development

language development

cognition knowledge

approaches to learning

Children living in poverty are less likely to have these school readiness skills at the same level as a child living in a middle or upper-class family. Research shows that children living in poverty-stricken environments are more likely to suffer from psychiatric disorders, physical health problems and less than average functioning both academically and socially. (Ferguson, 2007). Reversing the effects of children not being classified “school ready” as suggested by Ferguson, is to focus on early childhood intervention as this can help single out health problems, parenting issues, behavioral and social responsiveness.

Academic Achievement

Holistically, poverty is all about a lack of resources. As stated by Misty Lacour & Laura Tissington, these resources are financial, emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical. All of these resources combined lead to the issues faced by children in poverty inside of the classroom. Their studies have also shown that the factors that are a direct result of poverty can cause children to not perform at a high completion rate, academically. Higher incomes have been contributed to better student performance. These findings determined that children from low-income families suffered cognitively, reading/math scores, socially, and emotionally. Children from these households almost always scored below average in comparison to their wealthy peers.

Lacour & Tissington place emphasis on the lack of family systems/subsystems, emotional/mental support and role models as a contribution to low academic achievement. Race and gender were not found to be determining factors– only to show trends/data separated by race. These students in these communities are not receiving funding/experienced teachers to help bridge the gap.

To help boost academic achievement rates from an average of 19% (standardized test percentiles), there should be changes implemented in instructional techniques and strategies provided in the classroom. The three major areas of reform are school environment, home/community environment and policies of the district/state (Lacour & Tissington, 2011).

Change in Schools

Education at any level is a need in society today. The woes of poverty can place a large amount of burden on the shoulders of the educators that teach those students. Standardized testing has been put in place so that school administration can see the overall learning success and failure of their students. Due to this, it can be easy for teachers to place more emphasis on scores and remediation for better numbers. According to Theresa Capra (2009), the constant cycle of new teachers in minority areas negatively impacts the education that is being received. The lack of income obtained by students’ parents is highly associated with their lack of education. “History and evolution have shown that inequality is a reality. As the human race advances, however, it is plausible to think that civilization can prevent the decay of its social constructs through quality, accessible education. Embracing this perspective may help us to completely rethink education, leading to a more progressive system for our future” (Capra, 2009).


Through the research of the great scholars before me, I have realized that poverty is not a two nor three-dimensional issue. I was ignorant to this and now have a better understanding of what it means to be in poverty. Poverty is much more than the lack of financial means. Amartya Sen did a wonderful job of explaining the different aspects of poverty and how it affects the life of the families suffering. Poverty affects the families from functioning properly in their community — they have trouble paying their bills, yet can’t find a decent paying job without a good education. A good education costs money that they don’t have, therefore, the cycle continues. The absolute and relative view is extremely relevant to this detrimental cycle because they categorize the deficiencies caused by poverty.

Children that are from poverty-stricken areas are forced to go into schools that receive very little or no support from their communities. This is saddening — most times when parents request for students to go to a better school (provided they have reliable transportation of their own), they are denied due to the importance of scores. Districts place so much emphasis on scoring on standardized tests rather than the foundation of knowledge needed to succeed. This foundation starts with school readiness skills, which Ferguson & Mueller illustrated wonderfully. When students are not able to establish these skills effectively it sets them up for long-term failures not only academically but mentally and socially as well.

Scarce resources due to poverty such as family systems/subsystems, emotional/mental support, role models and monetary support directly correlate to the low academic achievement levels in students. I
n The effects of poverty on academic achieve
ment, the authors offered various solutions to close the academic gap such as assessing students through holistic assessments and using voluntary data. While this article provided a lot of important insight on the issues for students living in poverty, it did not give real solutions. In low-income households, children are often disassociated from the resources that middle or high-income students have. Changing the way these students are evaluated through assessments, does not change the education these students are receiving. It only helps them look better statistically.

In contrast, Captra touches on the importance of higher education and the difficulties students face in economically challenged schools.

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