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The Pathways from Poverty Consortium

focus: Unpacking Poverty and Its Impact on Student Success

Poverty must not be a bar to learning…learning must offer an escape from poverty.” — Lyndon B. Johnson

Recent Event

Understanding the Impact of Crime and Violence
on Students in Schools

Thurs., May 12, 2016

Please follow this link to view the presentation.

Background and Context

In an era when public education systems are charged with preparing all students for post-secondary schooling or training, an emerging reality for public schools—urban, suburban and rural—is the challenge of responding to students’ academic needs, at every level (pre-K through 12).These needs are diverse and distinctive. Their complexity is magnified by the increasing number of students whose ability to succeed at school is affected by the impacts of poverty. Current research and data show for the first time, that more than 50% of students (K–12th grades) are eligible for free/reduced-price meals in public schools and the number of children living in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty has grown substantially over the past decade. Large numbers of schools have experienced substantial increases in students displaying evidence of the impact of living in poverty or low-income households. Additionally, more schools experienced in working with children living in poverty, over time, must respond to even greater intensities and concentrations of need associated with poverty.

Thus, childhood poverty and the challenges of living in low-income households pose serious problems for public education. According to the American Association of School Administrators (2008), “The many and varied effects of poverty form the single greatest factor limiting student achievement. The most prevalent and persistent gaps in student achievement are a result of the effects of poverty.”


Students’ academic needs are identified, measured and consistently described and documented. They continue to form the bases for developing instruction, curriculum, methodologies, standardized measurements, reform models, etc., to help students learn, know and do well in the classroom, in the school. Challenging socio-economic factors in students’ lives, having prominence outside of the classroom, increasingly complicate their ability to learn, respond to, and benefit from instructional opportunities and academic experiences in school. Simply stated, the best teachers, best principals, and best curriculums in the world will have limited impact if the students are not able to attend school on a regular basis, focus on their academic work at school and complete their assignments. Yet, the evidence is clear that poverty exerts its tax on students’ ability to learn by limiting their ability to attend daily, stay focused in school, and get their schoolwork done (Balfanz 2012).

While the data that poverty is associated with lower levels of school success is clear, public understanding of why this is so is murky, and as a result, the public response has been fragmented. Over time, public schools have responded to the impacts of poverty with supplemental, supportive services, resources and staffing such as: social workers, psychologists, counselors, nurses, parent liaisons, student advocates, mentors, food pantries, clothing drives, health clinics, and others. But decisions on which resources to deploy where, and in what combinations, are typically made based on the availability of funding, as much as on a clear understanding of the scale and scope of student need. Moreover, it is frequently the case that discussions on how to deal with the impacts of poverty on student success have been approached on an all-or-nothing level. Some argue that until serious efforts are made to reduce poverty, public schools that educate large numbers of students who live in poverty will be limited in the outcomes they can achieve. Others maintain that strong teachers and effective school leaders, if provided the freedom to innovate and subsequently be held accountable for results, can create school environments that can overcome the impacts of poverty, whatever they may be. This all- or-nothing debate, however, tends to be short on evidence and confounds important variations by place.

School Breakfast and School Lunch at Washington-Lee High School Arlington, Virginia

Thus, the needs faced by many students living in poverty and their impacts on school success warrant continued and expanded attention. To this end, “The Pathways from Poverty Consortium” intends to “unpack” poverty and investigate and offer possible responses regarding such issues as:

  • acute hunger–food insecurity
  • types of poverty: concentrated, chronic, generational, low-income, extreme
  • homelessness; housing instability, mobility
  • exposure to, involvement in crime and violence (examples: gangs, theft, burglary, assault, death, trauma, sexual abuse, physical abuse, other)
  • physical, mental, emotional health
  • challenging family/parent/relational conditions (incarcerated parent(s), relatives; abuse, neglect; mobility; other)
  • unemployment, under-employment
  • welfare and social services (federal, state, local), public/private community support and assistance (examples: SNAP, public subsidized housing, United Way, etc.)
  • focused youth, juvenile needs: adolescent pregnancy, gangs, detention, emancipated minors, runaways, other

Our aim in this investigation will be to deepen the understanding of how critical components of poverty vary by place; what their magnitude is in a typical high-poverty school and what it looks like in extreme cases;, how they impact student success; and what is known or can be learned in the near term about how to mitigate or alleviate them.

Through its work, the consortium will acknowledge the impact of poverty on student success, motivated by President Lyndon Johnson’s belief that “Poverty must not be a bar to learning…learning must offer an escape from poverty.”

Consortium Activities

The Consortium will employ the following strategies, activities and actions:

Colloquiums—Academic conference, seminar, addressing a specific topic or related topics; considering questions, answers, comments

  • Complete formal and informal researches and inquiries into the critical, prominent non-academic needs and produce definitive data that can be used to support and guide efforts of decision makers at the national, state and local levels, to identify, develop and implement new strategies, directions and actions to effectively address them.
  • Hold sessions during which specific areas of poverty impacting student success are identified and addressed through presentation of data, discussion, and interaction.
  • Provide post-session reports delineating critical elements of specific sessions, including dialogue, input, commentary that will serve as contemporary resources for “next steps” regarding specific topics, areas of focus.
  • Develop and offer opportunities for Talent Development Secondary (TDS) staff to increase their knowledge and understanding of the current affects/impacts of poverty on student success in schools.

Collaboratives working together in joint intellectual efforts

  • Explore opportunities to work with Washington, DC-based advocacy and member organizations to advance core learnings (i.e. NGA, Children’s Defense Fund, and National Council of State Legislatures), providing definitive information and data related to the impact of poverty on student success.
    • Develop formal articulation sessions designed to consider specific areas of need (via data sharing, posit actions, next steps, etc.)
    • Work with identified groups to plan culminating sessions involving diverse attendees, and contributors that focus on a specific need or area, with the goal of creating creditable action plans and next steps

Connectionsactivities, actions, products that bring together, align identified entities with specific issues (non-academic needs of students living in poverty as described in II. Collaboratives) that focus on problem solving, action planning through:

  • Develop, deliver focused, defined mini-courses, seminars
  • Prepare documents, articles, reports
  • Develop and maintain a website
    • Prepare a White Paper proposing supportive policies regarding “Responding to Students Non-Academic needs” for consideration re: The 2016 Presidential Campaign
    • Convene national, state and local event(s) for public awareness, understanding, and networking (see Collaboratives)
    • Schedule opportunities for interface, articulation among public school leaders and their respective district, municipal, state, national, community colleagues
Members of The Pathways from Poverty Consortium