Reducing the Effects of Child Poverty
In today's global economic state, many families and children face reduced circumstances. The 2008 economic crisis became a "household crisis" (PDF) when higher costs for basic goods, fewer jobs and reduced wages, diminished assets and reduced access to credit, and reduced access to public goods and services affected families who coped, in part, by eating fewer and less nutritious meals, spending less on education and health care, and pulling children out of school to work or help with younger siblings. These "new poor" join those who were vulnerable prior to the financial shocks and economic downturn.
Today's statistics are astounding:
- Children represent 24 percent of the population, but they comprise 34 percent of all people in poverty.
- One in three poor people in the United States are children—more than 16.4 million children—an increase of 4.5 million children, or 35 percent (PDF), since 2000.
- A child in the United States is born into poverty every two minutes (every 25 minutes if she is a Asian/Pacific Islander and every 49 minutes if she is an American Indian/Alaska Native). That's 2,573 babies each day.
- Forty-five percent of children under 18 years of age live in low-income families, and one in five live in poor families.
- More than 23 million school children today are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (PDF), an indicator of poverty status.
- Children who live below the poverty line are more likely to have developmental delays or learning disabilities than those who don't live in poverty.
- Eighty-three percent of fourth graders who receive free or reduced-price lunches are not reading at grade level.
- Poverty keeps students from attending school regularly, diminishes their ability to pay attention in class, and undermines positive student behavior.
- Economically disadvantaged children need approximately 40–100 percent more funding per child (PDF). English language learners need 76–118 percent more. Yet the United States, overall, spends $1,307 less per pupil on the education of disadvantaged students.
Unfortunately, these "poor kids" are the most affected while also being the least able to do anything about their circumstances. They are dependent on the adults in their lives and the supports they have access to in the community. Their parents have had little to no control over rising inflation and massive unemployment. School districts that were previously vibrant are now dealing with unemployment, underemployment, and more transient families, resulting in less tax revenue; demands for more services; and children who come to school hungry, unhealthy, stressed, and unable to concentrate. Poverty is linked to children completing fewer years of schooling, earning lower wages as adults, and having a greater likelihood of reporting poor health.
How can we reduce the effects of poverty on our students? Robert Balfanz, codirector of the Everyone Graduates Center and research scientist at the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University, writes that (PDF) "schools that serve high concentrations of low-income students need to be able to provide direct, evidence-based supports that help students attend school regularly, act in a productive manner, believe they will succeed, overcome external obstacles, complete their coursework, and put forth the effort required to graduate college- and career-ready." Jon Marcus in a Harvard Education Letter article calls for positive interventions, full-service schools, and empathy for students' and families' circumstances.
In Wisconsin, "economically disadvantaged" (ED) enrollment is up from 24 percent in 2001 to 32 percent in 2008. This factor has a greater effect on student achievement than any other. Knowing that, a new study on the effect of school funding on education opportunity (PDF) outlines connections between poverty and student/school performance and offers solutions, including fair funding at the state level to address the increasing needs of rural and urban districts, incorporation of health and nutrition supports in education policy, and using multiple measures of assessment (not just state report card data) to measure overall school and student performance.
ASCD Executive Director and CEO Gene R. Carter pays particular attention to the recommendation to mitigate poverty's effects from the recent For Each and Every Child report, stating, "instead of watering down expectations for certain students or becoming overwhelmed by their steep barriers to learning, schools must join with families, community-based service providers, and other stakeholders to share research, data, idea generation, and resources to provide a coordinated approach for meeting each student's varying needs."
In May we looked at the implications of the "new poverty" for schools, many of which have seen drastic changes in the populations they serve and their communities. Listen to the Whole Child Podcast with guests Deborah Wortham, superintendent of the School District of the City of York, Pa.; Felicia DeHaney, president and CEO of the National Black Child Development Institute; William Parrett, director of the Center for School Improvement and Policy Studies and professor of education at Boise State University; and Kathleen Budge, coordinator of the Leadership Development Program and associate professor in the Curriculum, Instruction, and Foundational Studies Department at Boise State University. Read this blog to hear guest bloggers and experts share their thoughts on the new poverty.
Have you signed up to receive the Whole Child Newsletter? Read this month's newsletter and visit the archive for more strategies, resources, and tools you can use to help ensure that each child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.