More students in poverty, more kids in need of school support

More students in poverty, more kids in need of school support

(Texas) Children living in some of the highest poverty neighborhoods are close to a year behind their peers upon entering kindergarten according to new research which also found that more children are now living in high-poverty neighborhoods.

Researchers from Rice University in Texas, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Wisconsin examined how neighborhood and family poverty levels predict academic skills and classroom behavior in children starting school, and whether the number of families with young children living in poverty changed over a period of 12 years that included the 2008 recession.

They found that 36 percent of children lived in moderate-low, moderate-high and high-poverty neighborhoods–where 40 percent or more of residents live below the federal poverty line– in 1998. In 2010, the number rose to nearly 44 percent.

“Regardless of individual family income, there is something about living in a higher poverty neighborhood that negatively affects education outcomes,” Rachel Kimbro, a co-author on the paper and a professor of sociology in Rice’s School of Social Sciences, said in a statement. “This is a topic that should be of great concern for educators and policymakers alike.”

Compared to their more affluent peers, research has regularly found that children in low-income households tend to have lower levels of school achievement, higher suspension and expulsion rates, are rated by teachers and parents as having worse classroom behaviors, and attend schools with more ineffective educators.

Past studies have also found that in low-income neighborhoods, children are more likely to experience stressful environments, receive poor-quality child care and witness criminal activity–all of which has been found to negatively impact both health and educational outcomes.

Researchers at Rice University utilized the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study–Kindergarten 1998 and 2010 cohorts combined with data from the U.S. Census and American Community Survey. Using regression analyses they found that children living in neighborhoods with between 14 and 39 percent of families in poverty start school less prepared than their peers even when family income was held as a constant. Those in neighborhoods where 40 percent or more of families live below the federal poverty line often start kindergarten almost a year behind based on standardized math, reading and writing assessment scores.

Non-Hispanic white children were found to have faced the largest change in terms of living in high-poverty neighborhoods.

In 2010 they were 13.2 percentage points more likely to live in a moderate-low to high-poverty neighborhoods than in 1998, while non-Hispanic black children were 4.1 percentage points more likely to live in similar neighborhoods during that same timespan. Hispanic children, meanwhile, were 5 percentage points more likely to live in a high-poverty neighborhood in 2010 than in 1998.

Kimbro did note that although more white children are living in poverty than in 1998, overall, children of color are still more likely to reside in lower income areas.

“Although post-recession, more white kids were living in higher poverty neighborhoods, minority children are still significantly more likely overall to live in higher poverty neighborhoods,” explained Kimbro, who is also the founding director of the Kinder Institute’s Urban Health Program.

According to Kimbro, authors of the report are unsure what caused more families to move into higher poverty neighborhoods–home foreclosures, for example, or families in moderate-income areas simply becoming poorer as the economy worsened, thus increasing the number of residents living in poverty.

Regardless of why families live in poorer neighborhoods, Kimbro said that the results are worrying because children who live in poor neighborhoods can often start their education career so far behind, and educators and policymakers should consider interventions to help underperforming students that take into account conditions that exist in each student’s community.

Sharon Wolf of the University of Pennsylvania served as the study's lead author, and Katherine Magnuson of the University of Wisconsin served as a co-author.