The subject of poverty and its impact on education is and has been a hotly debated subject for many, many moons across every community around the globe. Academics have argued that standardized assessments are racially and economically biased based on the sheer question design being written from a privileged vantage point that is incomprehensible to children from socio-economically disadvantaged communities.

Sociologists have studied the household structure of students from impoverished backgrounds and how their families' needs to focus on immediate basic needs such as food and shelter have put them at a tremendous disadvantage as it inhibits their ability to prioritize education given that the benefits are longer term and aren't clearly visible when faced with immediate dire straits. My take on this is that unfortunately, they're all correct. Sociologists, academics, reformers, researchers, etc. are all correct that poverty places children at a significant disadvantage to their peers both academically and socially but where I differ is that the academics, reformers, sociologists and researchers are most often outsiders without a real connection to or understanding of impoverished communities yet arrogantly believe that they know what's best for these communities.  

It would be hypocritical of me to believe that you must have experience in a specific sector to be able to add value as I became the Chief Operating Officer of one of the nation's largest school districts without ever working in a school district. However, I took on that role as someone very well versed in managing operations. My challenge with the privileged few who have asserted themselves as experts on what's best for the impoverished masses is that without experience, a direct connection to, or even family members faced with similar circumstances, any recommendation on how to improve is already tainted with a lens of privilege.  

At Yardstick Learning, several of our team members are experienced minority leaders who have worked, lived in, and come out of impoverished backgrounds in many of our nation's most challenged communities. Our solutions are inclusive of the communities because we have a thorough understanding of the impacts of poverty and an understanding of the resilience required to remove oneself from these challenged situations.

The focus on privilege and it's impact on poverty and education is critical because privilege is at our nation's forefront on how to best educate our underserved communities. From philanthropic support from the largest education philanthropists and foundations to policy makers responsible for developing policies and standards, none of the large scale decisions are coming from leaders within the community that is bearing the brunt of these decisions. And the fact that this is happening to impoverished communities versus with impoverished communities is a direct example of the impact of poverty on education. Impoverished communities don't have decision making authority, nor access to resources, nor a voice that's heard by those with resources or authority.  

"Impoverished communities are coddled, at best, but never seemingly treated as equal partners in our nation's Education infrastructure.  Children are faced with educational models that devalue their need for nurture and instead a "no excuses" mantra …"

is forced down their throats that prefers they wet themselves during standardized assessments over the sheer decency of taking a bathroom break under pressure. Poverty allows for the privileged few to raise resources and spread the word that they built high performing schools yet none of the schools are high performing enough for the children of the privileged few who actually lead the schools and raise the money on the backs of our nation's impoverished students.

"Poverty limits access, it limits exposure, and as a result it limits opportunities. Poverty allows for the bar to be lowered and the definition of success to be minimized."


It's an extremely detrimental and circular cycle that is nearly inescapable without the help of those who have experienced poverty and are willing and able to reach back and help our youth escape. The cycle of poverty must and can be reversed but the existing reins held by the privileged few must be released to the community leaders who have the skill set, wear-withal and experience to uplift their respective communities.

Ebbie Parsons, Ed.D
Dr. Ebbie Parsons, III is the managing partner of Yardstick Learning where he leads the organization’s vision and growth. Yardstick Learning is a leading global strategic management consulting firm that provides strategy and change management services to mission-driven organizations.