Addressing the College Readiness Challenge in High-Poverty Schools

By Rhonda Tsoi-A-Fatt Bryant

More than half of all public school children live in low-income families. As the number of poor children has risen, so has the number of children who attend high-poverty schools. According to 2012 data, the most recent available, 1 in 5 children attend a school where at least 75 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch—up from 12 percent just 12 years ago. Concentrated poverty is most prevalent in urban areas, where 34 percent of students attend high-poverty schools. Given the racial/ethnic makeup of our nation’s urban centers, many of these students are children of color.Students in high-poverty schools lack the supports needed to become college ready, according to a report from CLASP. Course, Counselor, and Teacher Gaps: Addressing the College Readiness Challenge in High-Poverty High Schools analyzes the nation’s 100 largest school districts, focusing on “high-poverty schools” (where at least 75 percent of students live in poverty) and “low-poverty schools” (where 0 to 25 percent of students live in poverty). The report identifies major gaps in school resources and their impact on youth.

The highest-poverty schools lack resources and supports, making postsecondary preparation very challenging. These schools have the least skilled teachers, offer a less rigorous curriculum, and provide limited or no access to schools counselors. Consequently, students in high-poverty school sare less likely to enroll in college or training programs that lead to viable careers. Those who do enroll often need remedial academic support, creating financial barriers.

CLASP’s report details specific resource disparities in the nation’s 100 largest schools districts:

  • 14.5 percent of teachers in high-poverty high schools are in their first or second year, compared to 9.5 percent in low-poverty schools.
  • 88.5 percent of teachers in high-poverty high schools are certified, compared to 96.5 percent in low-poverty schools.
  • 69 percent of high-poverty high schools offer physics, compared to 90 percent of low-poverty high schools high schools.
  • Only 41 percent of high-poverty high schools offer calculus, compared to 85 percent of low-poverty schools.

Disparities in education for students in high-poverty schools cannot continue. The U.S. must provide each child with a quality education that prepares them for college and careers. If we fail to do so, students and families will remain trapped in poverty, low-income communities will suffer, and the nation’s economy will be placed at severe risk. There are many opportunities at the federal, state, and district levels to address this problem with systemic, sustainable policies. We simply need to act.

Click here to read the report.