How does poverty affect education?

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lhc | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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I think poverty's impact on education probably depends in large measure on whether it is situational or generational poverty.  The poverty experienced by a newly divorced mother struggling to provide for her children without a husband is somewhat different from that experienced by a child of the inner city whose parent(s) and grandparent(s) have perhaps never known anything else.  In either case, however, it is difficult for a parent to prioritize a child's education when he or she is struggling daily to simply put food on the table.  If a parent is working two jobs, for example, the child may spend much time alone after school, with no one to supervise or help with homework, or even fix dinner.  The child may come to school fatigued, if no one was there to see that he or she got to bed on time, and in the poorest households, whether or not someone was there to fix dinner may be a moot point if there is no money for food.  To say that a child should just learn to want a better life for him or herself is a vast oversimplification of a complicated problem because he or she may not be aware that there is a better life anywhere.  Even if he or she were, the connection between education and attaining a better life may seem abstract at best, or just plain impossible at worst.  However, I think we have to be careful not to assume that all poor people, and their circumstances, are exactly alike, either.  There are patterns and rules, but poor people's individual situations vary just as anyone else's situation might differ from his or her neighbor's. 

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MaudlinStreet | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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I'd like to add to both posts that although we have free K-12 education, poverty sets students at a disadvantage for higher education. Students may have to get a job to help support their family, affecting the hours they sleep and work on their homework. This can harm grades, and subsequently harm chances of going to a highly ranked school. Also, students who are socio-economically disadvantaged may not have internet access, & may not perform as well on standardized tests. Imagine, if your family can afford to spend $100 on a prep book or course for the SATs or AP exams, you will most likely be better prepared than someone who cannot. Similarly, students may have to pick and choose what exams they can actually take. If one is taking 5 AP exams in one year, even with fee reductions, the price adds up. Finally, students who are living with poverty will be at a disadvantage when applying to college, because they must consider price. They will need to work harder than their peers in order to gain merit-based scholarships. You might argue that all students can take out loans to pay for their education. Even if they are accepted and take out loans to pay, they will automatically be economically disadvantaged when they graduate, because they will be tens of thousands of dollars in debt, whereas students from wealthier families may be able to pay without taking out loans and incurring debt.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The previous post examines the issue quite well from the student's point of view.  From an institutional and structural valence, poverty impacts education in a variety of ways.  Initially, areas that are economically challenged can feature sub- standard facilities, such as buildings, grounds, classrooms, and textbooks.  Students, especially older ones, begin to see this feature in their educational worlds and it creates for a disparity between the opportunity ideology, which stresses what should be done, and the reality of the situation, stressing what is.  Additionally, there is a likelihood that schools which are immersed in conditions which constitute poverty might not be able to place immediate primacy on educational needs, as other and more pressing economic realities might drive the attention and focus of stakeholders.  Finally, with standards based educational reform manifested through initiatives such as No Child Left Behind, solutions to help students meet or exceed state standards might not be able to present themselves as readily.  For example, if a school is in an impoverished area and cannot afford to do so, tutoring programs and other types of assistance might have to be sacrificed, impacting the overall quality of a child's educational needs.

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ask996 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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If you have never read the works of Dr. Ruby Payne, you should. She has dedicated a large portion of her life studying the affects of poverty on students. What she explains is that not only do children suffer the economic issues that go along with poverty, but they suffer when they and others with whom they interact do not understand the rules that go along with each socio-economic class.

So in actuality, it's the unspoken and unwritten rules of the different classes that affect the student in a more critical way. Schools are operated from a middle class set of rules, and if a student is enduring generational poverty (poverty that is ongoing from one generation to the next) vs. situational poverty (unemployment, divorce, death) it is entirely possible that s/he will not know the unspoken and unwritten rules that govern the middle class.

One brief example of the difference an unspoken rule of the poverty class might be that they will physically fight to settle a dispute over a grievance. Whereas the middle class unspoken rule is to talk it out or pursue it through legal means.

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scarletpimpernel | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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As the previous posts mentioned, poverty literally affects all aspects of a child's life.  Whether it be the student having to take on adult responsibilities leaving little time for school work or a child moving from school to school with no continuity in education because his caretaker cannot maintain a permanent place to live.  On a personal note, simply trying to contact the caregivers of impoverished students is difficult because I often reach disconnected numbers or send information to old addresses (there is usually not e-mail contact available).  If I cannot contact a parent to let him/her know about the struggles of a student or improvements, it has an extremely negative effect on the student and his/her progress in school.

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bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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In Florida, many inner-city schools with students from lower-class, poverty-stricken families receive "F" grades due to their less than satisfactory FCAT scores, due in part to the students' poor educational skills and training. The "F" grades result in less state funding and further embarrassment to the students, teachers and administrators, who are branded as failures.

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lrwilliams | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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Poverty definitely makes a difference to education. Students must have their basic needs met before they are able to learn. If a student is not sure where their next meal is coming from or where they are staying tonight, learning is not very important to them.

User Comments

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atyourservice | Student, Grade 11 | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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They might not be able to have sufficient food for school, also some school supplies are expensive so they might not be able to get all their supplies. 

Also if the school is not a uniform song the child might not feel confident about their clothes and might try to avoid going to school.

And they might think school is too expensive (college) making them choose to leave school and not continue with their education to the higher level.

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udonbutterfly | Student, College Freshman | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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Poverty effects education in so many ways and sadly I have seen it first hand. Most likely those who are in poverty attend schools with poor budgets and teachers that fail to care. That child that goes to a poverty ridden school would have less opportunities to succeed and grow rather than say some one who goes to a school in a middle working class area. Also those who are poverty ridden would have the worse nutrition and skip meals in order to save money. We all know what happens when meals are skipped. It becomes difficult to maintain a straight head aside from the constant rumbling of your tummy. If someone in poverty wanted to continue their education it would be really difficult without digging into more debt especially with the price of attending college now a days.

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parama9000 | Student, Grade 11 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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Children will lack the necessary basic necessities such as stationery, food, and books to go to education. Also, poverty would also result in lower accessibility to education in some regions for financial reasons.

Lastly, people in poverty care more about survival than anything else. Thus, children coming from poor backgrounds might place or be forced to place less emphasis on education.

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acompanioninthetardis | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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People in poverty will be usually more focused on learning how to survive before trying to get an education, even if they decided to try to get an education, paying the fees for it would be a huge problem, and along with taking care of themselves as far as food and health-wise, it would become difficult. Hence people in poverty are unable to get education, because their primary motive is not knowledge but it is money that allows them to eat, whatever amount is needed for them of fulfill their need of survival. 

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Wiggin42 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 2) Valedictorian

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Poverty certainly affects education,as it is getting expensive to get a graduate degree. Apart from that every stages of learning need recurrent expenses which in turn discourages poor students to pursue higher studies. Along with tuition fees, books and resource materials are also increasing consistently is also affect in getting a degree.

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jess1999 | Student, Grade 9 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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Poverty can tremendously affect education. For example, there are some families who can't afford their children to attend school. Sometimes the children needs to work in order to help out the family. Nutrition is also important for one to be successful in school. Some family might not be able to afford the right amount of nutrition a child needs.

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zumba96 | Student, Grade 11 | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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People who live in poverty are not always able to receive the best education because of their situation and perhaps even go to college

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Jyotsana | Student, Grade 10 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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Poverty affects education in many way. In some country there are children who can't afford to go to school and they have to work to earn money to feed themselves. The poor children doesn't get education because they can't afford to go. When they don't have money they can't afford to buy anything such as school supplies or pay for school fees. This is how poverty affects education. Everybody should try to help decrease poverty so that it wont affect their education.

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