There are a multitude of challenges that a wide variety of our youth will face in life today to achieve a reasonable opportunity of having a successful life, regardless of how you define success. These challenges may be; race, physical and/or mental disabilities, gender, geography, single parent families, etc. but, one challenge that cuts across all of these variables and affects the lives and future potential of all children the most, is poverty. Poverty can be present and affect a student in almost every school, in every town, in some fashion (Burney & Beilke, 2006). Children born into poverty regardless of other variables, such as race, are faced with a heavier burden to bare then their counterparts when it comes to being successful in life. “Children from low-income families are more likely to suffer from preventable illnesses, fail in school, become teenage parents, and become involved with the justice system. As a result, these young people frequently reach adulthood without the necessary tools, experiences, and connections to succeed” (Prince, Pepper, & Brocato, 2006, p. 21). If we are to truly provide all youth with a reasonable chance to succeed, we will need to address how to help those that are faced with the additional and almost impossible challenge that living in poverty places upon them.


Many high poverty schools are putting a great emphasis on high stake testing scores. This is affecting the curriculum that teachers are focusing on in these schools. Teachers are feeling pressured to raise their student’s scores, many even indicated in a survey, distributed by Moon, Callahan, and Tomlinson (2003), “potential loss of job, reassignment, or reprimand as consequences of poor student performance” (Table 7). Compared to teachers in low poverty schools who indicated that there would not be a consequence for poor test scores. High poverty schools focus on test taking strategies throughout the school year, where as in low poverty schools their main focus is the month before the high stake test. The curriculum in high poverty schools focuses on testing skills, mainly drill practices and worksheets they do not challenge the students with higher order thinking and long-term projects. If schools are not expecting the same effort put forth by both low poverty students and high poverty students then how can we expect them to break from the poverty they have been placed in? School administration speaks to their employees in high poverty schools about strategies to raise test scores, if this pressure could be alleviated from the top, students might be able to perform better if there was not such an emphasis on having to only focus on test taking (Moon, Callahan, & Tomlinson, 2003).

Burney and Beilke (2008) state, “Achievement-related beliefs, values, and goals are among the most important determinants of outcomes or school achievement. Self-efficacy, or the belief in one’s own ability to master tasks, changes with development and can be influenced by motivating activities” (sec. Achievement Motivation and Contributing Factors). Students need to believe they can succeed in order to become successful in school. They need caring adults (teachers, parents, family members, and/or mentors) to support them in this belief. The authors also feel that opportunity and success in early childhood education programs are predictors for success in higher education. In most of the literature the authors reviewed they found that most high-achieving students came from higher-income homes. They discuss that collaboration is needed between the primary care givers and the school in creating a support system for low-income students to strive academically in school. They also discuss that teachers need to stray from looking at groups of children in need and focus on each child’s individual need in order to help them become successful. Students from a low-income home have the opportunity to break the pattern of poverty by having the opportunity for a more academic, caring, and encouraging support structure from the being of their school career (Burney & Beilke, 2008).

Many antipoverty programs have been trying to decrease the number of individuals faced with poverty in today's society. One study that was completed by Gassman-Pines and Yoshikawa (2006) implemented programs to help raise the income of families in poverty. They also “examined the effects of antipoverty programs on children’s cumulative poverty-related risk and the relationship between cumulative poverty-related risk and child outcomes among low-income families” (Gassman-Pines & Yoshikawa, 2006, p. 981). They created two different programs, the New Hope Program, which included 419 children ages 3-10 years old and the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP), which was broken into two programs and included 759 children ages 2-9 years old. The New Hope program targeted individuals who worked full time, but were still below the poverty line. They supplied these individuals with income supplements. The MFIP programs ran two separate programs; Full MFIP and MFIP Incentives Only. Under these programs, welfare recipients were allowed to keep more of their welfare grant, if they worked. The three programs also offered affordable health insurance and subsidies for child-care. Gassman-Pines and Yoshikawa (2006) found that there was a decrease in the number of individuals living in poverty after the programs had been implemented. Even though small, they also showed that the children involved in these programs had positive outcomes. But, the more poverty-related risk a child had, the more issues they had with behaviors, development, and school achievements. The antipoverty program that was put in place mainly affected employment and income, it did not address all aspects of poverty, but it was a small step in decreasing the percentage of families facing poverty.

Another antipoverty figure in the United States today is Ruby Payne. She is popping up in schools across the country stating that she is the “The Leading U.S. Expert on the Mindsets of Poverty, Middle Class, and Wealth” (Gorski, 2008). Researchers are starting to question her lack of real research and stereotyping of the classes. Gorski (2008) developed eight elements of oppression within her work. The eight elements that Gorski (2008) mentions are, “(1) uncritical and self-serving ‘scholarship,’ (2) the elusive culture of poverty, (3) abounding stereotypes, (4) deficit theory, (5) invisibility of classism, (6) the ‘it’s not about race’ card, (7) peddling paternalism, and (8) compassionate conservatism” (p. 131). He emphasis that Ruby Payne's work is built upon the stereotypes that we as human beings, as teachers, as members of a society believe. Everyone is able to connect and understand what she is saying because it is what society already feels about individuals in poverty, middle class, and wealth. Gorski (2008) does not feel that this is an authentic way to teach antipoverty in today's world. He states "we need to critically examine the culture of denial that has become institutionalized in our society and has caused the study of poverty…to be more concerned with…individual capability than…institutionalized inequities" (Gorski, 2008, p. 144). To overcome the stereotypes of poverty we, as a society, need to put them aside and learn about the individual and focus on the individual.

Poverty causes many problems for education and democracy. Crosnoe points out that families lower in socioeconomic status tend not to train their children to use societal institutions (2007). By allowing some students to disengage from education institutions they will also disengage from the democratic process. Not only will this disenfranchise lower economic classes but allow their rights to be trampled by the will of the majority. It is the moral obligation of the education institution to keep as many people engaged in the institution and the democracy as possible. A true democracy cannot be of, by, and for the elites of society.

Research suggests some strategies that are connected by a common theme. The common theme is a student-centered approach to education supported by the school district. Bitz, suggests that inner city classrooms tend not to have funds available to make the arts available to students in the classroom (2004). He thinks that having an arts-based literacy program, such as student made comic books, could be an affordable way to introduce art, and make literacy accessible to poorer school districts. Not only is it an inexpensive strategy but also it focuses on the student. The students have control of the whole project and practice all aspects of writing. This not only shows them that education is in their hands but the outcomes are more satisfying to them.

Rosalyn Black, also focuses on student centered classrooms (2007). She points out that the few schools that combine high-poverty with high-achievement do it through a student centered approach. It logically makes sense when combined with Crosnoe’s observations. If students are brought up disengaged from educational institutions the institution is the party that will have to make the effort to reach this group of students to have them think that they can have some control of their own lives.

Yeh, points to the lack of a student centered approach to poor Chinese immigrants (2008). She suggests that poor Chinese immigrants face several problems when they come to the United States; these problems would be almost universal to immigrants of different cultures (2008). Language barriers, cultural differences, and change in social status make a non-student centered approach to education almost useless to immigrants. Students who are poor and are finding the educational system as being of little use will choose to leave it in order to earn income for their families. But, this lack of education would inevitably lead to sustained poverty. A student-centered approach would be more appropriate for poor immigrants to blend their culture with that of the United States and to give them the opportunity they should have to participate in a democratic society. It would be intolerable to have poor immigrants forced out of a system to be a perpetual underclass.

Finally, Paul points out that the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA) does little to help poor students (2004). She suggests that the NCLBA perpetuates a system where the privileged stay privileged and Black and Latino poor will stay poor, or poorer. The system it creates something that mirrors what works well for the white suburbanites but does little for poor urban Blacks and Latinos. The system she contends only forces these students to drop out at a very high rate thereby diminishing the future prospects of these students. Once they drop out of the education institution they will almost inevitably drop out of the democracy.


Having the poor marginalized and excluded from the democratic system would signal the failure of the democracy. It is the responsibility of the democracy to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to participate. This means that a one size fits all system, like the NCLBA, will fail to reach the poorest of our citizens. The only morally just thing to do is to create a system where it is beneficial and accessible to all students, regardless of socioeconomic class. Research suggests that the best way this to be done is to have a student-centered approach to educating the impoverished.

  • Provide high-quality education to all students.
  • Hold high expectations for all students.
  • Provide childcare, transportation, and extended hours for parents during school events.
  • In your classroom have extra supplies and snacks for students that are unable to purchase these necessities.
  • Provide children with a mentor.
  • Keep the curriculum fun, exciting, and challenging with creative hands-on projects.
  • Question your own biases and prejudices and try to look at the child as an individual, do not pre-judge them.


Bitz, M. (2004). The Comic Book Project: Forging alternative pathways to literacy.
Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 47:7, 574-586.

Bitz conducted a research project with an urban school to find out how if an arts rich literacy program benefits low income and at-risk students. The project took place as a voluntary after-school program to teach literacy through a medium students would be interested in. This turned out to be comic books. Students were taught about what a comic book is, then they were to design, outline, and produce their own original comic books. Through instructors’ observations and surveys students were able to improve their literacy by practicing proven skills in a format they are interested in.

Black, R. (2007). Overcoming disadvantage through the innovative classroom.
Education foundation Australia. Retrieved June 18, 2008 from http:www.educationfoundation.org.au

Black explores how an education system can help disadvantaged students rather than only advantaged ones. She is able to conclude that the disadvantaged students requires whole-school supported good teacher practices; proven teacher practices should be easily shared and implemented between different schools; schools need support from the local community (i.e. businesses and organizations); students and teachers need positive reinforcement to reward their achievements. Essentially, Black argues that disadvantaged students require a more student-centered approach to education more than advantaged students.

Burney, V., & Beilke, J. (Spring 2008). The constraints of poverty on high achievement. Journal of
Education of the Gifted, 3 (3), 171-199.

The authors of this article reviewed literature on poverty, looked for similarities between poverty and high achievement and discussed a need for teachers and adults to provide individual support to low-income, high-ability students.

Crosnoe, R., Huston, A. C. (2007). Socioeconomic status, schooling, and the
developmental trajectories of adolescents. Departmental Psychology, 2007, Vol. 43, No. 5, 1097-1110.

The researchers sought to find a correlation between socioeconomic status and students’ locus of control and parental consultation. They found that at the highest and lowest socioeconomic ranges success was not considered directly with ability. The high socioeconomic status parents trained their children to be goal-oriented and to “work the system” (p. 1107). Low socioeconomic status parents engaged in parenting focused on “encouraging happiness but does not empower children in societal institutions” (p. 1107). Another consistent trend in their data shows that the higher the socioeconomic status the students have a higher sense of personal locus of control. Essentially, socioeconomic status determines a students’ sense of their control over their lives.

Gassman-Pines, A., & Yoshikawa, H. (2006). The effects of antipoverty programs on children’s
cumulative level of poverty-related risk [Electronic version]. Developmental Psychology, 42 (6), 981-999.

This study gave families in poverty income supplements for maintaining a full time job. They researchers looked at the affects that poverty had on children and their families and then looked for differences in children's behavior, both socially and intellectually, after they had the opportunity to not be below the poverty threshold. The study decreased the number of families living in poverty and made a small, successful impact on the lives of the children.

Gorski, P. (2008). Peddling poverty for profit: Elements of oppression in Ruby Payne’s Framework.
Equity & Excellence in Education, 41 (1), 130-148.

The author in this article critically looks at Ruby Payne’s, A Framework for Understanding Poverty, and develops eight elements of oppression within her work. He writes about a more authentic antipoverty education program as well.

Moon, T.R., Callahan, C.M., & Tolinson, C.A. (2003). Effects of state testing programs on elementary schools with high concentrations of student poverty-good news or bad news? Current Issues in Eduation [Online], 6 (8). Available: http://cie.ed.asu.edu/volume6/number8

The researches created a survey and distributed to public school teachers in both high poverty and low poverty school districts. They looked at the curriculum and testing procedures within these two school atmostpheres. They found that schools with high poverty focused more on test taking strategies, drills, and worksheets to raise testing scores.

Paul, D. G. (2004). The Train has left: The No Child Left Behind Act leaves black and
latino literacy learners waiting at the station. Journal of Adolecsent & Adult Literacy, 47:8, 648-656.

Paul suggests that the NCLBA does little in regards to literacy for Black and Latino students since they tend to have higher poverty rates. She points out that the Act is based on strategies that worked for George W. Bush while governor of Texas. The results that were touted as a reason to use a similar system at the national level misled the public in that they failed to point out that while test scores were rising, the drop out rate was also abysmally high. The students that this most affected were students in lower socioeconomic levels.

Prince, D., Pepper, K., & Brocato, K. (August 2006). The importance of making the well-being of children
in poverty a priority. Early Childhood Education Journal, 34 (1), 21-28.

The author of this article pushes for funding of pre-school and kindergarten education to prepare students to be ready for school. She mainly focuses on Mississippi after the event of Hurricane Katrina, but also incorporates the need as a nation. At the end she addresses the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) reauthorization and discusses what should be done at the federal level to truly help children living in poverty succeed in school.

Yeh, C. J., Pituc, S. T., Kim, A. B., Atkins, M. (2008). Poverty, loss, and resilience: The
story of Chinese immigrant youth. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 2008, Vol. 55, No. 1, 34-58.

The researchers used focus groups to find out what challenges poor Chinese immigrant youths face in the United States. They find three primary challenges: language, non-transferable degrees, and change in culture. These factors make it difficult for the parents of Chinese youths to find employment that is economically advantageous, for instance they point to a story where a person who was a doctor in China immigrates to New York City finds out that his license is no good in the United States and ends up working in a Laundromat to make ends meet. The students face some similar challenges. Struggling students would often find dropping out of school to work as a good choice since the education system was not helping them and their families could use all the income they could muster.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License