Poverty Contributing to Low U.S. Test Scores?

Lower income children have outnumbered middle class children in a large segment of American public schools, and a recent study indicates that this may be a reason why American test scores are globally below par.  In the following article, Julian Omidi discusses the phenomenon of underserved children in American public schools.  Julian Omidi is cofounder of the nonprofit organization No More Poverty with his brother Dr. Michael Omidi.

A study by the Southern Education Foundation has found that, for the first time in more than 40 years, the number of children in many American regions that can be classified as being below the poverty line outnumbers the population of children in the middle classes in our public schools.  The number of poverty-stricken students was determined by the number of students whose families qualify them for reduced-price or free student lunches.[1]

In total, out of the 50 million students currently enrolled in American public schools, 48 percent of them receive federal school lunch assistance.  In certain states, such as Mississippi, the number receiving assistance is as high as 71 percent.

The volume of low-income students in public schools may be affecting national academic averages.  Higher income students perform on par with students in other high-achieving nations, but the scholastic averages of low income students are causing American test scores to be perceived as being among the lowest in all developed nations.

Children born of impoverished parents are less likely to be read to in infancy, are less likely to have parents that can help them with their homework and are more likely to have undiagnosed and untreated medical and psychological conditions that inhibit their ability to learn.  Poorer students are statistically more likely to be overweight or obese, as well, which often causes an increase in stress hormones that result in depression and an inability to concentrate.

The economic downturn has corresponded directly with a decline in student test scores, according to the study.

Public policy regarding education has failed to address the core problem of income inequality.  Because policy makers and educators are operating under the assumption that all children entering kindergarten have comparable language and social skills, the programs that have been put into place have been woefully inadequate in addressing the needs of lower income children.  Children who come from poverty have roughly half the vocabulary that higher income children do.  It has been suggested that enrolling lower income children into preschool could help to bridge the gap.

There is no easy solution for this growing problem.  It seems that parental education might offer some remediation for the academic performance disparities in children.  If parents are made to see how their choices affect the future success of their children, perhaps they would be more proactive in their children’s academic and personal success.  The futures of these children affect us all, since it is possible that we are cultivating a generation of citizens who aren’t able to care for either themselves or their own future offspring.


[1] Layton, Lindsay: Study: Poor Children Are Now the Majority in American Public Schools in South, West The Washington Post 10/17/2013 http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/study-poor-children-are-now-the-majority-in-american-public-schools-in-south-west/2013/10/16/34eb4984-35bb-11e3-8a0e-4e2cf80831fc_story.html


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