2010 Spotlight

High-Poverty Public Schools


The Elementary and Secondary School Act of 1965 constituted an important educational component of the "War on Poverty" launched by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Through special funding (Title I), it allocated resources to school systems to meet the needs of educationally disadvantaged children. Since 1965 there has been an expansion of federal education programs, as well as a wide variety of state and local initiatives, that target resources for disadvantaged students. Many of these programs address the needs of schools and districts with high concentrations of poverty, as evidence has emerged that the level of poverty in a school can affect academic outcomes (Rumberger, 2007).

This special section of The Condition of Education 2010 uses a subset of the indicators in the full report to present a descriptive profile of high-poverty public schools and their students and to compare them to low-poverty public schools and their students. The school poverty measure used throughout is the percentage of a school's enrollment that is eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL) through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). High-poverty schools are those where 76–100 percent of students are eligible for FRPL and low-poverty schools are those where 0–25 percent of students are eligible. Twenty percent of public elementary schools and 9 percent of public secondary schools in the United States are high-poverty using this definition (see table A-24-1). These high-poverty schools educate approximately 6 million elementary school students and 1 million secondary school students.

The special section describes high-poverty schools in terms of their characteristics, staffing, and students in relation to their low-poverty counterparts. The special section is organized into three general areas, each of which presents data from various sources and examines different questions.

Part I describes the characteristics of high-poverty schools and the students who attend them and addresses the following questions:

  • What types of schools are high-poverty schools?
  • Where are high-poverty schools located?
  • What are the characteristics of the students who attend high-poverty schools?

Part II describes the principals, teachers, and support staff who work in high-poverty schools and addresses the following questions:

  • What are the characteristics of principals working in high-poverty schools?
  • What are the characteristics of teachers working in high-poverty schools?
  • What are the characteristics of support staff working in high-poverty schools?
  • Part III describes the outcomes of students who attend high-poverty schools and addresses the following questions:
  • How do students in high-poverty schools perform on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessments?
  • What are the high school graduation rates for high-poverty schools?
  • What are the college enrollment rates for high-poverty schools?

Throughout the special section, high-poverty schools are compared with low-poverty schools. In order to cover the breadth of material in the limited space of this special section, the middle two FRPL quarters (26–50 and 51–75 percent) are not usually discussed. The complete poverty distribution, however, is provided in each table. This special section is limited to elementary and secondary public schools, including charter schools. Due to the low number of combined elementary/secondary schools (schools where grade spans include both elementary and secondary grades) these schools are not discussed separately, but are included in national totals. It is important to note that the purpose of this special section is to provide descriptive information by bringing together indicators found throughout The Condition of Education report; thus, complex interactions, relationships across variables, and causality have not been explored here.