Poverty and Student Achievement: A Hopeful Review

Research Report

Poverty and Student Achievement: A Hopeful Review

January 1, 2005

Abstract

This chapter focuses on the relationship between poverty and factors associated with poverty and student academic achievement in urban areas. Researchers and practicing educators have long known of the strong link between family background characteristics, particularly family economic status, and the academic achievement of students. After reviewing demographic data on urban America, we present student achievement data over a number of years to show how the achievement gap has persisted, but also to highlight factors that are likely to affect it. The analysis then shifts to a review of the literature, exploring three classes of explanation for the achievement gap (increases in the number of language minorities and of racial and ethnic minorities, and poverty in urban schools), concluding with an examination of possible social/economic and school policy solutions. Class-size reductions, accountability policies, and well-structured early-childhood education programs show significant benefits for disadvantaged students and appear to offer some hope for reducing the achievement gap. Additionally, the literature suggests that hiring and retaining better-qualified teachers may help urban districts reduce the achievement gap. While some districts may find this latter option beyond their control, investing in professional development could provide an appropriate alternative. (In Literacy Development of Students in Urban Schools, edited by James Flood and Patricia L. Anders (3-21). Newark, DE: International Reading Association. January 2005)

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