American Kids Are Poorer Than They Were Decades Ago, Education Report Shows

05/28/2015 12:01 am ET | Updated May 28, 2015
Shutterstock / Olesya Feketa

Poverty, which affects a growing number of American students, begins its negative impact on learning as early as the beginning of kindergarten, according to a National Center for Education Statistics report released Thursday.

Teachers reported that kindergarten students from affluent households in the 2010-2011 school year were more likely to have positive approaches to learning than those whose families live below the poverty line, according to the center's annual report, called The Condition of Education 2015. A positive approach to learning includes paying attention in class, keeping belongings organized and enthusiasm for learning.

Female students, students who were older at the start of the school year, students who came from two-parent households, and students whose family income was more than twice the poverty threshold were more likely to have positive approaches to learning, according to teachers. Black students, male students and students whose parents did not graduate high school tended to have poorer approaches to learning. Students who demonstrated positive approaches to learning in kindergarten were more likely to have top scores in first grade.

"Research suggests that living in poverty during early childhood is associated with lower than average academic performance that begins in kindergarten and extends through elementary and high school," the report says. "Living in poverty during early childhood is also associated with lower than average rates of school completion."

The annual report aims to give members of Congress an overview of the U.S. public educational system, using a mix of hard data like enrollment and test scores, and surveys reflecting the views of educators.

In 2013, nearly 21 percent of children -- 10.9 million kids -- were from families who lived in poverty -- a jump of 6 percentage points from 2000 and a reversal of a previous trend toward lower poverty. Poverty often has been associated with low academic achievement.

Childhood poverty has risen for every major racial group since 2008, according to the report. Childhood poverty in 2013 ranged from 39 percent for blacks and 36 percent for American Indians and Alaska natives, to 13 percent for whites and Asians.

The report had few bright spots. It said the achievement gap between blacks and whites ages 25 to 29 who had attained at least a high school degree had narrowed considerably. School crime, the report says, continued its 20-year decline.

The number of high school graduates who took math and science courses increased from 1990 to 2009, according to the report. In 2009, 30 percent of high school graduates took physics, biology and chemistry, an increase of 3 percentage points from 2005.

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