The Effect of Poverty on Child Development

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Updated: May 16, 2022
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What happens when a child enters kindergarten without being ready? Why are scores in third grade reading and eight grade math continuing to lag? Children who are inadequately ready for kindergarten have a hard time catching up over the years, and a report from the education advocacy organization Groundwork Ohio found that poverty is often tied to this insufficient kindergarten readiness. Early education is the foundation for a child’s future and, according to the report, the repercussions of not being ready for kindergarten has the potential to last a lifetime with the possibility of affecting health and even wages later down the line (Hancock, 2018).

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Some people might be under the impression that being prepared for kindergarten is not important, but the reality of the matter is that it is important. Studying the brain of young children has led scientists and educators to the conclusion that early childhood education can dictate life success. For young children it is important that the neuro connections in their brains be activated, and this needs to be done early. Even though genetics does play a role in determining life success, early experiences that enrich young minds are necessary (Hancock, 2018). The negative impacts that poverty has on children in the early and most important years of their life is an issue that needs to be looked at more closely and begs of a remedy to ensure students have access to an education that will put them on a path to success.

Educational outcomes in Ohio are threatened by economic segregation, and in Ohio’s six major urban counties 40% of students attend schools that are considered to be high poverty (Powell, Reno, & Reece, 2005). Negative impacts are shown through research that brings to light the fact that educational opportunity is depressed for those students that attend the high poverty schools (Powell et al., 2005). In Ohio’s six largest metropolitan areas, over half of the students that are considered to be poor are segregated into the schools that are deemed to be high poverty, with which economic isolation is linked to lower performance on standardized tests in the state of Ohio (Powell et al., 2005). Additionally, recent studies show that students with low socioeconomic backgrounds have lower performance academically than their advantaged peers and face the risk of lower academic growth during their early years (Li, Allen, & Casillas, 2017).

Present in Ohio as well as the rest of the country, the achievement gap starts before children enter kindergarten and they are disadvantaged from the start. The home environment of low-income families generally does not promote the learning that would help the children be successful in school (Richardson, Vafa, & Litton, 2013). Early childhood education is essential to the development of children that are economically disadvantaged, and research shows that a high-quality education early in a child’s life has the potential to lessen the negative effects of poverty (Richardson et al., 2013). Disparities in schools that are high poverty are produced both by factors inside and also outside of school. High concentrations of low-income students in either one school or one school district will essentially leave both at a disadvantage. This is partly due to the fact that there are fewer resources available in addition to lower income students having higher needs than their more affluent peers (Powell et al,. 2005). However, these effects are largely due to factors that are outside of the school’s control. Ultimately, low-income people are less likely to exercise or receive appropriate medical care in addition to children being exposed to food with a lower nutritional value and toxins from the urban areas in which they live (Jensen, 2013). Without proper resources to serve these students, teachers face a reality of spending less time teaching in class, and as instructional time decreases the students are pushed further into an academic crisis (Powell et al., 2005). Furthermore, in-school causes also impact the achievement levels of students at high poverty schools. Simply, students learn less when they are surrounded solely by peers that share their low-income status which perhaps leads to students being unmotivated because of a lack of hope and optimism (Jensen, 2013). Teacher quality also plays a role in the effort students are willing to give, effort can be taught and with low-income students there is a need for a strong relationship between the teacher and student.

For decades, researches have known that disadvantaged students lag far behind and tend to achieve a lot less academically than their affluent peers. Testing data from all 50 states from 2009-13, Stanford University Researchers estimated how many years of learning students differ from districts across the country compared to the national average (O’Donnell, 2016). The research revealed that in many advantaged school districts, students have test scores that can be about four grade levels ahead of the students that are in the disadvantaged districts. The report further mentions that the socioeconomic standing of a school district is a powerful indicator of the students’ academic performance. Looking specifically at Ohio, the article mentions how the largest gap is more than six years of learning difference when comparing the top-scoring school north of Cincinnati and the lowest-scoring schools just out of Columbus (O’Donnell, 2016). Cognitively, children that come from a low socioeconomic background tend to show problems with attention spans, higher level of distractibility, have difficulty when it comes to monitoring the quality of their work, and face challenges coming up with new solutions to problems (Jensen, 2013). All of these factors contribute to the learning gap and with little parent involvement at home and the reality of poor learning environments, children in schools with high poverty will continue to lag behind.

The lack of support for high poverty schools in Ohio and the United States is a problem that needs to be addressed. Students face negative impacts through being placed in high poverty schools and end up falling far behind their grade level peers. Families and also communities are affected by the education that students receive in schools, and considering the fact that being unprepared for kindergarten can follow a student for a lifetime it is imperative that Ohio policy makers find a way to better the outcome of students facing poverty and enable students to make a positive impact within their education.

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The Effect of Poverty on Child Development. (2019, May 19). Retrieved from