Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Joining the Conversation about Educating Our Poorest Children: Emerging Leadership Roles for School Counselors in High-Poverty Schools

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Joining the Conversation about Educating Our Poorest Children: Emerging Leadership Roles for School Counselors in High-Poverty Schools

Article excerpt

School counselors bring special skills to the effort of educating low-income children. A review of literature on poverty and social class as correlates of student success, teacher expectations, and parent involvement provides a rationale for school counselors expanding their leadership roles in high-poverty schools by. (a) serving as cultural broker among students, their families, and school staff; (b) partnering with staff to design more culturally responsive instruction; and (c) developing a more family-centric school environment.


National data reveal that the number of children in the United States who live in poverty has increased significantly over the past 5 years. In terms of raw numbers, more than 13 million children in the United States were reported to live in poverty in 2004, an increase of 12.8% from the number of children in poverty reported in 2000. As a result, in 2004 more than one out of every six American children was poor (Children's Defense Fund, 2005). Although financial need is one defining characteristic of poverty, poverty may be defined more globally as "a condition that extends beyond the lack of income and goes hand in hand with a lack of power, humiliation and a sense of exclusion" (Raphael, 2005, p. 36).

Children living in poverty present a profound challenge to today's educators and counseling professionals. These children are significantly more likely than children from middle-class backgrounds to report increased levels of anxiety and depression, a greater incidence of behavioral difficulties, and a lower level of positive engagement in school (Black & Krishnakumar, 1998; Caughy, O'Campo, & Muntaner, 2003; Samaan, 2000). They also exhibit a greater incidence of school failure, developmental difficulties and delays, lower standardized test scores and graduation rates, and higher rates of school tardiness, absenteeism, and school dropout than their middle-class peers (Davis, 1999-2000; Donahue, Schiraldi, & Macallais, 1998; Fontes, 2003).

Despite being twice as likely as their middle- and upper-class peers to demonstrate serious mental health and educational needs, children living in poverty are much less likely to have access either to mental health care or to adequate educational services (Children's Defense Fund, 2005). Moreover, low-income children are most likely to attend schools of offering the poorest quality of teaching from the least experienced teachers. Current research reveals that the quality of teaching and the quality of working conditions in high-poverty schools--defined by the U.S. Department of Education (2002) as having 50% or more of the student body eligible for the federal free or reduced-price lunch program--are significantly worse than in low-poverty schools. As a result, poor children are assigned disproportionally to teachers with less experience, less education, and less skill than those who teach other children (Peske & Haycock, 2006).

Because many of the more expert and experienced teachers transfer to more desirable schools and districts when they are able, new teachers are typically given the most difficult teaching assignments in schools that offer the fewest supports (Darling-Hammond, 2004). Most new teachers in high-poverty schools report feeling unprepared to address the challenges of working with poor students and, by extension, their parents/caregivers (Cochran-Smith, 2006). Furthermore, teachers in high-poverty schools report significantly worse working conditions, including inadequate facilities, fewer textbooks and supplies, less administrative support, and larger class sizes (National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, 2003). As a result, the attrition rates for new teachers in high-poverty schools average between 40% and 50% over the first 5 years of teaching. This turnover rate is almost one third higher than the total teacher turnover rate across all schools. This high teacher attrition rate adds burdensome financial costs, problems of staff instability, and a lack of staff mentoring and support to the already difficult circumstances in which our poorest children are educated (Darling-Hammond). …

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