Factors of a Low-SES Household: What Aids Academic Achievement?

Article excerpt

The home factors of low-SES primary students, having high academic achievement, were investigated. Six second-grade students were identified as living in low-SES homes and qualifying for free and reduced lunch, while also having high academic achievement. Their primary caretakers were interviewed in order to investigate the factors within their homes that aided academic achievement. The results of this qualitative study exhibited that none of these high achieving second-grade students had home factors that were typical of low-SES home environments. Information was gathered through interviews, observations, and various documents. The interviews were semi-structured and evolved throughout the study. After the audio-recorded interviews were transcribed and examined, four common themes emerged: (a) educational resources/influences, (b) the mother's education, (c) relationships, and (d) causes of child's success. The results of this study have implications for all educators.

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The role of the teacher has taken on many descriptors over the past 100 years. Today the job of the teacher is not simply to facilitate learning, but often includes being a nurse, social worker, parent, referee, advocate, and much, much more. This is due to many changes in society that have taken place. One of those changes has been the number of children living in poverty. The U.S. Bureau of Census reports that the poverty rates of children are currently higher than they have ever been (Bureau of Census, 2002). This in turn leads to a larger percentage of students in the classroom who come from low socioeconomic households. Why is this increase significant? There has been a tremendous amount of research done that shows that a child's socioeconomic status (SES) affects his/her overall cognitive ability and academic achievement (Bradley & Corwyn, 2002; Bracey, 1996; Ram and Hou, 2003; Duncan, Yeung, Brooks-Gunn, & Smith, 1998). According to Vail (2004), "[children] from high poverty environments enter school less ready to learn, and they lag behind their more-affluent classmates in their ability to use language to solve problems" (p.12). It has also been found that SES seems to affect the consistency of a student's attendance, as well as how many years of education he/she ultimately completes (Bradley & Corwyn, 2002). Many researchers agree that there is usually a positive correlation between SES and academic achievement.

But what about those students who come from low-SES homes and are still able to succeed academically? In fact, not only are many of them succeeding, some tend to be well above the academic achievement standards for their determined grade level. "While low-SES is highly correlated with low achievement, some low-SES students are academically successful" (Caldwell & Ginther, 1996, p. 142). Research has also found discrepancies within the correlations between SES and achievement (Molfese, DiLalla, & Bunce, 1997; Caldwell & Ginther, 1996). The issues have therefore become less of looking at the correlations between SES and academic achievement, and more of looking at what factors of low-SES are contributing to academic failure, and what factors are contributing to success in school.

Statement of the Problem

Why is the child reared in a low-SES household still able to succeed in school? Molfese, Dilalla, & Bunce (1997) found that home environment measures were the single most important predictor of differences in children's intelligence at ages 3 through 8. In one study, Duncan, Yeung, Brooks-Gunn, & Smith (1998) found that "...children in families with incomes less than one-half of the poverty line were found to score between 6 and 13 points lower on the various standardized tests" (p.408). However, even as many researchers have found that low-SES is a determining factor in how a child will succeed in school, many still agree that the affects of SES on learning achievement vary from case to case. …