Reducing the Effects of Poverty on Early Education

Despite being one of the most developed countries in the world, the United States has one of the highest rates of childhood poverty globally. Children born or raised in poverty face a number of disadvantages, most evidently in education. The effects of poverty on education present unique challenges in breaking the cycle of generational poverty and reduce their chances of leading rewarding lives.
People Impacted
$ 244B
Potential Funding
I have this challenge
the problem
Nature and Context

Despite being one of the most developed countries in the world, the United States has one of the highest rates of childhood poverty globally. Children born or raised in poverty face a number of disadvantages, most evidently in education. Poverty reduces a child’s readiness for school because it leads to poor physical health and motor skills, diminishes a child’s ability to concentrate and remember information, and reduces attentiveness, curiosity and motivation. One of the most severe effects of poverty in the United States is that poor children enter school with this readiness gap, and it grows as they get older. Children feel alienated from society; suffer insecurities because of their socioeconomic status; fear the consequences of their poverty; endure feelings of powerlessness; and are angry at society’s inability to aid in their struggles. For some children, the effects of poverty on education present unique challenges in breaking the cycle of generational poverty and reduce their chances of leading rewarding, productive lives (Child Fund).

Symptoms and Causes

Perpetuated Cycle of Poverty

In the United States, quality education is one of the few ways proven to raise an individual out of poverty, but it is a privilege not everyone can afford. Children who grow up in low-income families face more barriers to education than those that don’t—and this extends the poverty cycle to another generation (Forgotten Children).

Health and Nutrition

Overall, poor people are less likely to exercise, get proper diagnoses, receive appropriate and prompt medical attention, or be prescribed appropriate medications or interventions. When students experience poor nutrition and diminished health practices, it's harder for them to listen, concentrate, and learn (ASCD).

Restricted Vocabulary

A child's vocabulary is part of the brain's tool kit for learning, memory, and cognition. Words help children represent, manipulate, and reframe information. Kids from low-income families are less likely to know the words a teacher uses in class or the words that appear in reading material. When children aren't familiar with words, they don't want to read, often tune out, or feel like school is not for them. Also, many students don't want to risk looking stupid (especially to their peers), so they won't participate in class (ASCD).

Lack of Resources in Underprivileged Communities

Oftentimes, schools that serve impoverished students are also neglected by federal, state and local budgets. This means schools trying to bridge the learning gap students face at home, are also facing unique hurdles in the classroom. Class sizes are also much larger in underfunded communities, textbooks and resources are outdated, and special dedicated care for children with learning difficulties are non existent. A 2016 paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) provides a rationale for investing more money in low-income districts. NBER found that increased spending for these schools led to significant improvements in student outcomes in reading and math, as well as to higher levels of education and income for those individuals (Insight).

the impact
Negative Effects

Short Term Effects of Poverty

  • Toxic Stress Effects Mental Health

    • All children experience stress, and caring adults or support networks can help them cope and figure out how to respond. However, the constant stresses of living in an impoverished household — and in some cases, dealing with abuse or neglect — can create a toxic stress response. Such levels of stress “impact children’s brain development in the first couple of years of life,” said Dreyer, and can result in permanent changes to brain structure and function. These changes can manifest as increased anxiety, impaired memory and mood control – making it harder to learn, solve problems, follow rules and control impulses. The release of stress hormones can also create a “wear and tear” effect on the child’s organs, including the brain (PBS).

  • Low Graduation Rates

    • 30% of children raised in poverty do not finish high school. Children from lower-income families are more likely than students from wealthier backgrounds to have lower test scores, and they are at higher risk of dropping out of school (Child Fund).

Long Term Effects of Poverty

  • Lower Probability of Secondary Education

    • Data show that low-income students are five times more likely to drop out of high school than those who are high-income and 13 times less likely to graduate from high school on time. For many of these young people, both their families’ financial situation and their experience in under-resourced K-12 schools have long-term effects on their ability to enter and succeed in postsecondary education. Impoverished students do not possess a good foundation of education ability, and college, for the most part, isn’t on their agenda. For those who do manage to go to college, they are, on average, ill-prepared for the journey. Their poor academic preparation handicaps them the entire way, as do poor time-management and study skills.

  • Children who grow up poor are more likely to be poor as adults

    • Studies show that children who grow up poor have a harder time escaping poverty as adults. For example, in one 2009 study by the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University, researchers found that children who grew up poor were not only more likely to experience poverty as adults, but that the likelihood of being poor in adulthood went up with the number of years spent in poverty as a child. According to the study, around five percent of adults who never experienced poverty as children were poor at ages 20 and 25. If they were poor anywhere from one to seven years as a kid, that number went up to approximately 13 percent. For those who spent eight to 14 years in poverty as children, 46 percent were poor at age 20, and 40 percent were poor at age 25 (PBS).

Economic Impact

The largest economic cost of child poverty is the reduced future earning potential of children born into poverty. For adults who experienced poverty during childhood, earnings were reduced by a total of $294 billion in 2015. In all, child poverty reduced the size of the economy by an estimated $1 trillion dollars, or 5.4 percent of gross domestic product, in 2015. Child poverty remains a significant challenge in America. A better understanding of the economic effects of child poverty can help policymakers make informed decisions about the most efficient use of federal dollars for anti-poverty programs and initiatives.(Peterson).

Success Metrics
  • Ensure that schools in impoverished communities receive adequate funding to supply resources and reduce class sizes

  • Reduce childhood poverty country wide. Despite being one of the most developed countries in the world, the United States has one of the highest rates of childhood poverty globally (Child Fund).

  • Expand teachers' understanding of how the effects poverty can appear as lack of interest, laziness, etc., so they can be a connection to resources instead of a missed opportunity for a suffering child.

  • Further explore the long term detrimental effects of poverty, into adulthood.

who benefits from solving this problem
Organization Types
  • Schools Districts

  • Welfare Programs

  • City and State Councils and Governments

  • Colleges/Universities

  • Students

  • Teachers

  • Parents

  • Community Wellness Programs

financial insights
Current Funding

Pie for Providers helps small child care providers and families claim the government funding for which they are already eligible. Today, 85% of eligible children do not claim this funding. This means families struggle to afford care and child care providers - small, women-owned businesses - do not get paid for their work.

Ideas Description

Providing knowledge and connection to the poorest communities:

The Practical Answers suite of websites offers completely free knowledge and support to the world’s poorest people. It does this by enabling the sharing of technical information that people across the world need to raise themselves out of poverty. Agriculture and food production The information is shared through podcasts, infographics, tutorials, manuals, engineering drawings, fact sheets, videos, full publications and links to other online resources. To be most useful, knowledge has to be locally relevant, so the Practical Answers digital service is decentralized, managed from offices in Africa, Asia and South America. So far, over 1 million resources have been downloaded from the platform.

Ensuring Teachers and Students have access to the latest apps and tools to enhance learning:

Literator helps teachers organize and analyze classroom data in an easy and intuitive way. Literator empowers and supports teachers in assessment, learning strategies while also giving teachers real-time insights to every student’s reading performance.

Century is an artificial intelligence e-learning tool designed to support teachers and learners. Our vision is for every teacher and learner to have access to intelligent tools that help them succeed. Together, we have combined the latest research in learning science, artificial intelligence and neuroscience to ensure CENTURY is underpinned by evidence-based scientific and pedagogical techniques.

Every student deserves the opportunity to attend college and achieve upward mobility. Upchieve connects low-income youth with live academic support to help them on their path to achieving upward mobility. To start with, we’re focused on providing free math tutoring to high school students, because math skills are essential to finishing high school and pursuing any kind of postsecondary certification.

ClassDojo connects teachers with students and parents to build amazing classroom communities. This tool is free for teachers, forever. ClassDojo listens to teachers, kids and families. ClassDojo helps them work together as a community. And ClassDojo helps them bring the world’s best learning experiences into their classrooms and homes.

Early Learning Academy, is the leading and most comprehensive digital learning resource for children ages 2–8, designed to help prepare children for kindergarten and ensure third-grade readiness.

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