Students Living in Concentrated Poverty and Reading Poorly in 3rd Grade are Far Less Likely to Finish High School
An updated data analysis shows that simply living in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty reduces the chance of graduating, particularly if students don't read proficiently in third grade.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 12, 2012
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Students who grow up in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty are significantly less likely to graduate from high school on time, particularly if they do not read proficiently in third grade, according to a new data analysis released today. To view the report, click here.
More than a third of poor students who live in poor neighborhoods and struggled with reading early on do not graduate from high school by the time they are 19, according to the study of nearly 4,000 students nationally. The same type of students--with low family incomes and weak third-grade reading skills--are more likely to graduate if they live in middle-class or affluent communities.
In addition, reading proficiently is not enough to guarantee success for students who live in a poor community: Good third-grade readers living in concentrated poverty drop out at the same rate as struggling readers in middle-class communities. The results for children in high-poverty neighborhoods are similar across racial and ethnic lines, but black and Hispanic students are far more likely to have lived in these neighborhoods than their white counterparts, the research shows.
The analysis expands on a 2011 study, Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation, which found that students who aren't reading proficiently by the critical third-grade milestone are four times less likely to graduate than better readers. If the students are poor and not reading well, they are 13 times less likely to graduate than more affluent peers who have mastered reading.
The new data analysis shows that if students face three risk factors--they are poor, live in a poor neighborhood and do not read well in third grade--they are 17 times less likely to graduate than students with none of those risks.
"These findings are particularly troublesome, given that more and more of our children are living in communities and neighborhoods of concentrated poverty," said Ralph Smith, senior vice president for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which commissioned the research. "If we expect these children to break the cycle of poverty, they must graduate from high school. Unless we get them reading on grade level, high school graduation is unlikely."
Smith is also managing director of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a collaborative effort by dozens of funders and nonprofit partners to ensure that more low-income children succeed in school and graduate prepared for college, a career, and active citizenship.
Nearly 8 million U.S. children now live in high-poverty neighborhoods, an increase of 25 percent from 2000, according to a data snapshot released last month by KIDS COUNT, another Casey Foundation initiative. Two thirds of these children are in large cities, and three quarters have at least one parent in the workforce, the KIDS COUNT report shows. Neighborhoods of concentrated poverty are defined in both studies as U.S. Census tracts where more than 30 percent of households have incomes below the federal poverty threshold, or $22,314 a year for a family of four in 2010.
Not all children in these neighborhoods are poor, but those who are often lack good health care, move frequently among substandard housing units, and go without adequate food or sleep. Street crime, limited access to public transportation and substandard schools compound the problems for all children living there.
"Neighborhoods matter," said Donald J. Hernandez, a Hunter College sociology professor who conducted the research. "We need to think about effective policies that reduce poverty and increase reading skills for all children, including strategies that align early education with grades K-3rd and workforce development for parents that lead to secure jobs with middle-class incomes for families. Such policies would not only help individual children and families, but also reduce neighborhood poverty rates and, hence, the toxic effects of concentrated poverty."
Currently, more than 160 U.S. cities, counties and towns are working with the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading on plans to address some of the ill effects of poverty and to increase the number of low-income children who are reading on grade-level by the end of third grade. As part of the All-America City Grade-Level Reading network, many of these communities will submit action plans today (March 12) to tackle three critical problems that keep children from achieving proficiency. They include:
- School Readiness -- too many poor children show up for kindergarten not ready to succeed
- School Attendance -- too many poor children in grades K-3 miss too many days of school
- Summer Learning -- too many poor children in the early grades lose ground over the summer
For the study, Hernandez divided the 3,975 students in a U.S. Department of Labor database by three neighborhood types: high-poverty, middle class and affluent. About 18 percent had spent at least part of their lives in a high-poverty neighborhood, while 14 percent had lived in affluent places. The others lived only in middle-class communities.
The study also looked at reading proficiency scores on tests aligned with standards set for the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP. Even in affluent communities, fully half the children do not reach proficiency in or by the end of third grade. In middle-income places, two thirds are not proficient, reflecting the national average. And in poor neighborhoods, it rises to 86 percent.
Poor children who aren't proficient readers in third grade are more likely to graduate if they do not live in concentrated poverty, the study shows. About 20 percent of such children in affluent neighborhoods and 23 percent in middle-class communities fail to finish school, compared with 35 percent high-poverty places. The analysis shows that 31 percent of the Hispanic students and 47 percent of black students in the study had lived in concentrated poverty, compared with 5 percent of white students.
In addition to the Casey Foundation, the research was conducted with support from the Center for Demographic Analysis at the University of Albany and the Foundation for Child Development, with guidance from the staff of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation is a private charitable organization whose primary mission is to foster public policies, human-service reforms and community supports that more effectively meet the needs of today's vulnerable children and families. For more information, visit www.aecf.org.