Is Poverty an Excuse for Poor School Administration Performance?

School boards give so many excuses. They are always short of funds which means they can’t give children what they really need. They blame in on the need for higher taxes to fund their endeavors. The students perform poorly on tests. They blame it on the poverty level.

Poverty Levels

What are poverty levels in our country? The US government releases an annual report on what it considers to be poverty (does not include senior citizens). These figures are taken from The Institute for Research on Poverty.

One person making $12,082 or less is considered in poverty. A family of two makes $15,391 or less. A family of four brings in $24, 036 or less. I won’t go into the entire list, but you can get an idea of what the government perceives as poverty. Now think of these levels in a big city such as Los Angeles, Houston, or New York. Someone making twice this would be considered poverty if you look at just figures to survive in those places.

According to the US Census Bureau, 13.5% of US citizens are under the poverty level. That is 43.1 million people. Of those, 19.7% of them were children. That means about 8.5 million children are considered living in poverty.

From this, we can agree that poverty thresholds are pretty low and impact a large number of people, including children. These figures show that poverty is a force in the lives our children. But is it a good enough excuse for school administrators?

Impact on Education

Poverty does impact the education of the children who live it. When a child cannot afford the basic school supplies, they are starting their education off already behind the other kids. When they don’t have enough food to eat at home, they can’t concentrate at school.

When the parents are trying to make ends meet while living in poverty, there is also an impact from the home field. Working more than one job which many do means that many parents can’t be there to help their children with homework. The students aren’t getting the support at home they need because the parents are trying to keep a roof over their heads.

NewsLeader cites the following as results of poverty on children’s education:

•Absenteeism increases, meaning learning is missed

•Impaired attention and concentration

•Reduction in memory and creativity

•Diminished social skills, which make making friends more difficult, leading to more stress

•Reduction in motivation and effort

•Likelihood of depression

As we can see, poverty can make a big impact on education. It is something that schools need to be aware of and face. Most schools do have programs to help offset the negative impact poverty has on education.

What Schools are Doing to Counter Poverty

Schools are not sitting idly by. They are tackling how poverty impacts them through various programs.

School Supply Donations — School supplies can be rather pricey. Grade school kids could have one to two hundred dollars worth of supplies to buy. Programs have been created where families can purchase extra supplies and donate them to local schools for those who cannot afford the crayons, scissors, or other supplies. Families aren’t under such pressure to get the supplies needed for success when they struggle to put food on the table.

Lunch Programs — There have been lunch programs in place for several decades where those living in poverty can get free lunch. If families are are above the poverty levels but still bring in too little to give their children healthy lunches, they can get reduced priced lunches to help them out.

Breakfasts — In the last few years, schools have started serving breakfast to those who probably don’t get it at home due to their economic conditions. Studies have shown how important breakfast is for brain function throughout the day.

Counselors — Schools also have counselors onsite to help students if they are struggling due to their poverty conditions. They can help direct the family to resources to help them.

What School Administrations Say

Schools say they do not have enough resources to fight poverty’s influence. They say poverty is lowering their test scores. They say the poor are weighing down the results of education. Why else could they have such low test scores?

Meredith Broussard did a study and found that the reason for low test scores is not anywhere close to be poverty. The standardized tests that school administrators are saying are low due to poverty are stacked against the poorly run schools in our nation. These tests are created by the large textbook publishing companies. They use their own textbooks as the source for the tests and not for general knowledge. They test to their books. That means if schools are not using those specific books, they basically are screwed. It doesn’t help that schools cannot afford these textbooks that can cost over $100 each and has to be replaced each year with a new edition. Broussard says that school systems need to “stop giving standardized tests that are inextricably tied to specific sets of books. At the very least, stop using test scores to evaluate teacher performance without providing the items each teacher needs to do his or her job. Most of all, avoid basing an entire education system on materials so costly that big, urban districts can’t afford to buy them. Until these things change, it will be impossible to raise standardized test scores — despite the best efforts of the teachers and students who will return to school this fall and find no new books waiting for them.” (The Atlantic)

Michael J. Petrilli looked into academic performance and its correlation with poverty. He points out that there is a correlation as poverty does negatively impact how well a child learns, but…there is more to the story once a person looks closer. He says,

?Still, poverty is an issue for virtually every nation on the planet. Where reform critics get it wrong is when they claim that America’s average scores are dragged down by the particularly poor performance of low-income students, or that the advantaged kids are doing just fine.That is objectively untrue. And its scores are not dragged down by an unusually high proportion of poor students, as measures of absolute poverty find the U.S. not to be an outlier at all.

“America’s mediocre performance is remarkably consistent. Yes, affluent students outperform poor students. But they don’t outperform their peers overseas.

“This doesn’t imply that reform, as currently formulated, is on the right track. Why U.S. student performance is mediocre is a topic worthy of study and debate, as is how to help students at all points on the economic spectrum perform better.

What it does show is that poverty can’t explain away America’s lackluster academic performance. That excuse, however soothing it may be to educators, politicians, and social critics, turns out to be a crutch that’s unfounded in evidence. We need to stop using it and start getting serious about improving the achievement of all the nation’s students. (Education Next)


We cannot say poverty doesn’t affect school performance, but despite what school administrators say, it is not the driving force behind low test scores. There are other reasons for the low test scores. Poverty just doesn’t help matters. Maybe school systems need to get back to basics instead of trying to one up the competition and failing miserably.

Writer for ten years, lover of education, and degrees in business, history, and English. Striving to become a Renassiance woman.

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