The Challenges Disadvantaged Schools Face

In the world of education, it’s no secret that high-poverty school districts face significantly more challenges and perform worse academically than their counterparts in more affluent areas.  While there are many reasons why this occurs year after year, there’s not a simple solution that would eradicate this problem entirely.

The fact remains, disadvantaged school districts will continue to face hardships that affect student outcomes until these issues are addressed head-on.

Here are some of the many challenges disadvantaged districts face each year:

  • Fewer than 48% of children living in poverty are ready for school by age 5 while 75% of their more affluent peers are ready to start school.
  • Children living in poverty experience toxic stress that greatly affects their physical, behavioral, socio-emotional, and cognitive health.
  • Children living in poverty are 2x more likely to have one or more social, emotional, behavioral, or developmental problems.
  • Parent incarceration, violence, housing instability, racial or economic discrimination, and household substance abuse are all more likely to be experienced by children living in poverty.

It’s clear that significant roadblocks to academic success exist well before these children ever step foot in a school.

Teachers & Administrators

One of the biggest hurdles for students in disadvantaged school districts is the lack of qualified teachers and administrators. These staffing issues boil down to three (3) main causes: pay, turnover, and geography.

Salaries for teachers across the board are significantly lower than for other professionals with the same level of education. In some high-poverty school districts, teacher and administrator pay is lower than the more affluent districts nearby. This lower pay can be a huge contributing factor to turnover.

Turnover is a huge problem in high-poverty school districts that struggle to keep qualified teachers and administrators.  They often have to staff with substitutes or people enrolled in alternative teaching programs to cover empty classrooms.  These substitutes create a disruption in the learning process for students because they are trying to follow a schedule and build rapport with students who are needing consistency and structure.   

Between poor pay, challenging students and many of these schools being in what’s classified as “unsafe” zones, many teachers leave these schools as soon as they can.  They accept the position to get experience but generally are looking for opportunities at other schools.   The unfortunate side effect is the students get left behind and the little structure and consistency in their life is destroyed, which can lead to further disruptive behavior. 

Geography plays another key component is finding qualified teachers for disadvantaged schools.  Teachers tend to look for positions in schools similar to the area and school district where they grew up. With high-poverty districts there have fewer students who graduate from high school and even fewer that go to college then return to their home districts to work.

Funding & Resources

While all school districts in the country get some federal money, most funding decisions are made at the state level with some states providing equitable funding to all districts regardless of student demographics.  Some studies reflect “that schools and districts with high poverty rates need more resources to educate their students, one study showing it would cost three times more per student just to achieve average student performance.”

Funding a disadvantaged district receives has a greater impact on student access to quality curriculum, supplies, and technology.  Investments made into these schools is critical to reduce the academic opportunities and achievements of students.  High-poverty districts need additional resources to properly educate students who are already facing multiple disadvantages.

While virtual education can assist in helping to minimize disruptive behaviors, there are additional issues that would need to be resolved such as ensuring good internet for the students to connect to their virtual school and the right device to attend class.  Resources are key to getting disadvantaged students on a more level playing field.