Poverty and Student Achievement

Repeatedly studies have shown poverty to be the number one predictor of low student achievement. With over 64% of our public school children living in poverty, Mississippi leads all states in students who are at risk for failure. Studies have also shown that a significant investment is required to move students reared in poverty from the at-risk status to high-performing. These students need significant interventions, which require more money, in order to catch up. They need one-on-one instruction and excellent resources, neither of which will be available until we fund education adequately.


The Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) has been criticized by some as “throwing too much money at public education.” Bear this in mind: Even if the MAEP is fully funded in the coming year, Mississippi will remain 48th or worse in the nation in per-pupil funding.


The disadvantages children in poverty must overcome are enormous. These children, generally speaking, do not live in “print rich” environments. While the children of middle- to upper-income families live surrounded by books and magazines and are typically read to throughout their early years, many children in poverty have never seen a book prior to entering kindergarten. Some do not know what a book is or even how to hold one. Letters and numbers are completely foreign to them.


Many of these children enter kindergarten with no frame of reference for a shape. They have no idea what a circle or a square is. Likewise, many have no frame of reference for conversational language. They simply are not engaged in conversations with adults. These children are typically spoken to in “orders” rather than in compound or complex sentences: “Pick that up!” “Eat your supper.” “Go to bed.”


Often, the parents of these children cannot read or work math problems. Once past first grade, there is no one in the child’s household who can help with homework. Success in school for these children becomes almost entirely dependent upon the teacher and what the child gets during school hours. As funding becomes more and more inadequate and class sizes rise, the opportunity for success for these children dims.


Because Mississippi leads the nation in children at risk for failure due to poverty, our state should spend more on public education than other states just to offer our children a realistic shot at success. While we should be spending more per child than any other state, we are spending less per child than almost all other states. That is a recipe for failure.

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