Until I started kicking around ideas for this blog in support of the upcoming #WATeachLead chat on April 23, I had never stopped to think about what my own middle school teachers would have seen or thought about me– a transfer student in my 8th grade year. Perhaps they would have seen an avid reader, a student willing to raise her hand to answer questions or a student who loved all the subjects. But what about those other bits of knowledge we begin to piece together as teachers? We know what we see in class does not complete the big picture. What did they think when they realized I was eligible for the free and reduced program or that my family currently lived with grandparents? Perhaps the more important question is whether or not my teachers even knew all this about me?
Now, as a teacher, what are my own reactions to students in these situations?
Whether it is situational or generational poverty, students living in poor or tenuous circumstances are living in a different existence than what many school staff understand, an existence that puts students at a distinct disadvantage. Most of these students must focus on surviving rather than thriving. Whether or not a student lives in poverty is not always observable or equal or some cookie cutter check-list of characteristics. No matter the situation, students from poverty have additional challenges to overcome.
How does your school effectively address the needs of students living in poverty in order to support their success? Is there a sense of urgency?
Poverty Cross-Cuts All Student Sub-Groups
The importance of addressing poverty in education cannot be denied as poverty impacts every sub-group of students. If you look at Washington State’s Office for the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s website, there is a web page regarding statewide graduation rates. Linked here and partially found below, Appendix J shows the difference in graduation rates between subgroups and income within that group. For example, for the 4-year cohort group for 2016, 79.1% of all students graduated in Washington State, but only 68% of low-income students graduated. The students not considered low-income graduated at a rate of 88.7%. That is an opportunity gap of 20%! If we look at subgroups, the discrepancy is equally stark. Hispanic students’ graduation rate is 72.3%–low income Hispanic students graduate at 70.1% compared to the non-low income Hispanic students who graduate at a rate of 82.7%. EVERY subgroup has this success gap in regards to income.
|2015-16 Grad Rates|
|Category||All Students||Low Income||Non Low Income|
|Two or More Races||77.9||66.7||89.6|
|No Special Education||82.0||72.6||90.9|
From the OSPI Website Here
A Small Glimpse at the Impact on Students
Before a student ever walks through a kindergarten door, poverty can have a profound impact on his or her success in school. According to WaKids data on the OSPI website, 56.3% of all tested kindergarten students had the expected literacy skills of a 5-year old. But when only looking at low-income students assessed, only 43% were exhibiting 5-year old literacy skills. There were five other measured areas demonstrating similar disadvantages.
During my own research regarding attendance for my Master’s capstone project, students in poverty often face huge barriers that negatively impact attendance. Ranging from lack of access to healthcare to staying home to take care of siblings, it should not be assumed that students from low income families are merely skipping school–although that can happen too, stemming from social-emotional issues, bullying or a lack of hope. This idea of barrier absenteeism must be systematically addressed by schools to see meaningful changes.
And everything else . . .
Basic nutrition, lack of school supplies, bullying, adequate clothing, hygiene, movement between schools, social skills development, access to technology, homework support, vocabulary acquisition, support systems, ability to participate in extracurricular programs, lack of access to youth sports, exposure to enrichment opportunities, and so much more.
Where to Begin
There is no end to the research that exists regarding poverty’s impact on student success, yet there exists a distinct lack of genuine understanding, resources and actionable solutions. No single solution is the answer, but there must be school leadership and a commitment to think beyond one-size fits all approaches.
The first step is acknowledging that poverty exists and impacts our schools. Then we must ask ourselves, what will we do about that as a school, a district and a community?
Be part of the discussion by joining #WaTeachLead on April 23 when @hawkskhaleesi leads a chat on Poverty in Education.
OSPI’s report card gives statistics for the demographics of districts.
OSPI’s Rural Education Achievement Program web page
The Annie E. Casey Foundation: Measuring Access to Opportunity In the United States and Kids Count Data center
Potential Resources for low-income schools
College Bound Scholarships for students from low income families (must sign-up in middle school).
The Gear Up grant found here
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grants
Food for Thought
“How Poverty Affects Classroom Engagement” by Eric Jensen, author of Teaching with Poverty in Mind
“How does Poverty Influence Learning” by William Parrett and Kathleen Bludge
“5 Ways to Help Students in Generational Poverty” on Edutopia
“Leading Learning for Children from Poverty” by Cynthia Johnson, Association for Middle Level Education
I enjoy working with teachers to pool our collective ideas and talents.To fill my teaching bucket in this way, I participate in the ESD 101 ELA Fellows, lead a community of practice for Bridge to College and enjoy working with the CorelaborateWa teachers.
I am in my twelfth year teaching; two doors down the hall, my husband is in his second year as an AgEd teacher and FFA adviser . Our two young daughters, 8 and 5, keep us crazy-- I mean busy--as we juggle 4-H, dance, basketball, t-ball and more.
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