How Poverty can Affect High School Achievement

Poverty can hinder high school achievement in a number of ways, primarily through lack of access to resources and access to time. First of all, poor students lack the financial means to purchase things that aid in academic achievement, like books, computers, Internet access, and tutoring. Without these study aids, poor students lack the ability to supplement in-class learning. More dire, lack of in-home Internet access can hinder completion of homework or pre-test studying.

Lack of Internet access is a tremendous struggle in today’s tech-savvy world, particularly in regard to education. Teachers may expect all students to be able to access the Internet at home and may create homework assignments or tested subject material around certain websites, thus disadvantaging poor students.

Poor students may be afraid to admit that they lack Internet access, allowing their grades to suffer from noncompletion of homework or inability to study all testable material. Even if teachers are aware that not all students can access the Internet from home, those who can access the Internet have an undeniable academic advantage on homework and tests by being able to seeking online study aid.

If a poor student has trouble understanding the class textbook or teachers’ handouts or notes he or she is out of luck, while a wealthier student can use the Internet to find the material in another form or from another source that is more understandable. A rich student who doesn’t “get it” has much greater opportunity to “get it” before test time, while a poor student has few options but to continue to muddle through the original material. 

Every student who lacks access to the Internet is also slightly disadvantaged because he or she cannot learn optimally, with visual learners, audial learners, and readers who lack the ability to go online forced to process class material in whatever form the teacher presents it. A student with Internet access who is a dedicated visual learner can look up visual aids at home to supplement the reading passages given by the teacher.

A second hindrance of poverty in regard to school performance is lack of time. Many poor students have to work part-time jobs after school to help supplement low family income, preventing poor students from taking part in extracurricular school activities or studying.

Even if a poor student has time to participate in extracurricular school activities, he or she may not have the money for club dues or to buy the things needed to participate, such as athletic equipment to play sports or formal wear to join the debate team. The inability to join school clubs or sports teams can cause poor students to have less-impressive academic resumes, which may prevent admission to select colleges and universities.

A poor student who lacks the time to study or complete homework is at a disadvantage in terms of grades. A further disadvantage occurs when poor students have to work late into the evening, preventing a good night’s sleep and making the student tired and unable to focus in class. Poor students are less likely than rich students to be well-rested and able to pay full attention in class. Being tired and unable to pay attention in class to take notes or absorb material compounds the difficulties already existing through lack of Internet access at home.

Another problem created by student poverty is lack of communication. Poor students often already lack Internet access at home making it difficult or impossible to receive e-mail communications from teachers or the school. Some teachers, in addition to being devout e-mailers, also post class information and notes on a school or class webpage or a class page on social networking sites like Facebook. A teacher who forgot to cover something in class, such as information needed for a standardized test, might e-mail the information at the last minute to the class…leaving poor students without e-mail addresses in the lurch.

Poor students may even lack reliable telephone communication. A teacher might have difficulty reaching poor students’ parents if phone service is sporadic or nonexistent, or if the numbers change regularly due to family reliance on low-cost disposable cell phones. Lack of e-mail and phone communication can leave a poor student and his or her parents unaware of failing grades until too late in the grading period to rectify the problem. Lack of communication can also hinder poor students’ abilities to study with other classmates, with students lacking cell phones, e-mail addresses, and Facebook profiles more likely to be left out of group study sessions.

Additionally, lack of communication, phone or digital, can prevent poor students from being able to set up tutoring times with the teacher. Therefore, when grades are low, which they are more likely to be due to lack of Internet access or networking ability to set up study groups, poor students have a difficult time fixing the situation because they cannot easily communicate with the teacher outside of class.

Finally, and perhaps most controversially, poor students may have less academic assistance at home because their parents were similarly less successful at school. Poverty has a compounding and reinforcing effect. A student who is poor is more likely than a wealthier student to have parents who did not graduate from college or attain a high-paid, high-skill career. These parents may be less able to help their children with high school coursework, while parents with college degrees are likely to have more ability to assist in preparing for homework and tests.

A sociocultural component may exist as well, with parents who did poorly in high school perhaps developing antipathy for high school. These parents, due to negative experiences with high school, are likely to not assist their children in their academic endeavors. A poor student not receiving overt parental support for his or her academic pursuits may have an increasingly difficult time in school.