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How Education Impacts Poverty: The Rewards of Teaching in Low-Income Schools

September 21, 2021

For teachers, education is as much a calling as it is a career. That’s especially apparent for those who decide to teach in low-income schools. While they face many challenges, these teachers have the invaluable experience of seeing firsthand how education powerfully impacts students’ lives.

Some school districts now offer special incentives to attract educators to low-income schools. Teachers who earn a Master of Education degree are prepared to take on this important work in the nation’s schools.

“For many teachers, leading classrooms in low-income schools is exactly what they entered teaching to do,” said Stacey Klasnick, program director for the online Master of Education degree program at Merrimack College. “There are few other circumstances in education that offer the sort of direct, positive impact on a student’s life that you get when teaching in a low-income school.”

Why Educators Choose to Teach in Low-Income Schools

Teachers who decide to lead classrooms in low-income schools face many difficulties. But choosing this path also provides many rewards.

Teachers in low-income schools make a tremendous impact on the lives of students, inspiring the next generation even while they learn their own important lessons. This challenging educational arena often reminds them of what attracted them to the teaching profession in the first place: a love of helping children.

In some districts, the rewards may also be practical. According to the Education Commission of the States, teachers may receive monetary incentives for teaching in low-income schools. For example, the Talent Transfer Initiative, which is available in districts across the country, offers $20,000, paid in installments over two years, to high-performing teachers if they transfer into and remain in designated schools with low average test scores.

The U.S. government also offers the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program. If a teacher works full-time for five complete and consecutive academic years in a low-income school, they may be eligible for forgiveness of up to $17,500 on their Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans, as well as on subsidized and unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loans.

In addition to financial incentives, districts that face a teacher shortage may also make an extra effort to improve working conditions to attract talented educators. This can range from more support in the classroom to smaller class sizes.

How Poverty Impacts Education

Numerous studies show the impact of poverty on education. They also offer a clear picture of how widespread the issue is in the United States. For example, the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) cites studies showing 19% of all students nationwide are “living in poverty, attending a high-poverty school, or both.”

Students living in poverty face a host of issues. For example:

  • Health issues stemming from a non-nutritional diet
  • Homelessness
  • Lack of food
  • An inability to receive medical treatment for illnesses
  • Lack of access to computers, high-speed internet, and other resources

These factors place students under more stress, making it difficult to succeed in school. It’s also an issue of equity: NASSP reports that data show higher percentages of Hispanic, African American, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Pacific Islander students attended high-poverty schools than white students.

How Education Can Affect Poverty

Education can provide the key to success for students attending low-income schools. Research has shown that education can lift graduates out of poverty. The non-profit agency Concern Worldwide US writes that “access to high-quality primary education and supporting child well-being is a globally-recognized solution to the cycle of poverty.”

Breaking this cycle of poverty happens in a variety of ways. They include:

  • Improved economic growth
  • Reduction in income inequality
  • Reduced stunting, a term that refers to significantly impaired growth and development in children

The non-profit cites studies that show that if all students in low-income countries had basic reading skills, an estimated 171 million people could escape extreme poverty. And if all adults completed secondary education, we could cut the global poverty rate by more than half.

That’s a powerful impact. Teachers who work in low-income schools become part of a worldwide movement to lift the lives of students. It’s another reason why earning a master’s degree in education in Massachusetts is worth it.