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America’s Teachers Cite Poverty as Major Education Barrier

By Communities In Schools June 9, 2015

88% of U.S. teachers believe that student poverty is a barrier to effective learning in public schools.  Those startling results are contained in a new national poll of 700 teachers conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and Communities In Schools (CIS), the nation’s largest and most effective dropout prevention organization which helps low-income students overcome their non-academic barriers to learning.

The poll, among the largest and most in-depth examination of issues facing teachers, was conducted May 8-12 and has a margin of error of +\- of 3.7%.   

Teachers report that poverty and the manifestations of poverty are a critical impediment to education and acknowledged that they spend considerable amounts of time and personal resources to address these barriers. Teachers were nearly unanimous in their preferred solution to addressing these challenges: a dedicated person to work with low-income students and their families inside schools.

“As we have found with most polls of teachers, they expressed concern about too much testing, student apathy and lack of parental engagement as general problems in schools today," said Robert Blizzard, partner at Public Opinion Strategies. “But what was striking is that when asked to identify and rank serious problems in their local schools, poverty became a major theme.”   

  Blizzard noted the manifestations of poverty were among the serious problems identified by teachers.

  • 92% cited disruptive behavior
  • 89% cited chronic absenteeism
  • 85% cited poor student health

This impact of poverty is so great that teachers reported devoting personal time and resources to help students address non-academic issues.

  • 91% of teachers have spent their own money on supplies.
  • 54% of teachers have used their own money to help feed students.
  • 52% of teachers have helped a student and/or their family through a crisis.
  • 49% of teachers have helped a student get new clothing or footwear.
  • 29% of teachers have arranged for a student to receive medical attention.

When asked the percentage of time they spent helping students with problems they face at home or outside the classroom, teachers responded an average of 20%.

“Twenty percent is the equivalent of one day a week or 4 days month, or, extrapolated out, roughly 2.5-3 years out of a child’s 12-year career,” said Dan Fuller, vice president of legislative relations for Communities In Schools.  “This is time that teachers are addressing the needs of a few students at the expense of an entire classroom. Clearly poverty is an issue that impacts all students.”

Fuller noted that teachers also feel strongly about solutions to address these non-academic barriers to student learning.

  • 94% favor providing dedicated staff from the local community to work closely with students and families with greatest needs.
  • 92% favor organizations/individuals working inside the school to help kids with non-academic needs.

Teachers said issues related to poverty are best addressed by dedicated professionals from the community. Of those who have Communities In Schools affiliates in their district, over 80% believe it very helpful for their district.

82% of teachers who do not have a CIS presence in their community had a favorable impression of Communities In Schools, based on a description of the organization’s work.

Click here to download the Teacher Survey Presentation, Poll Points and Narrative and the related Infographic.



About Communities In Schools

Communities In Schools (CIS) is the nation’s largest organization dedicated to empowering at-risk students to stay in school and on a path to a brighter future. Working directly inside more than 2,500 schools across the country, we connect kids to caring adults and community resources designed to help them succeed. We do whatever it takes to ensure that all kids—regardless of the challenges they may face—have what they need to realize their potential.

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Learn more about the work Communities In Schools is doing to empower and equip every student to take on and tear down the barriers that stand between them and an equitable path to education. 

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