Discover How Poverty Changes a Child’s Brain and Ability to Learn
Children who live in poverty are especially at risk because stress can limit working memory. The nation’s K-12 schools enroll 25 million poor kids, nearly half of all public school students in the country. The number of school children living in poverty has reached crisis levels, Jensen said.
“Many students who start kindergarten never finish elementary school at grade level and that’s a problem because (then) they rarely finish secondary school at grade level,” Jensen said, pointing out that poor students are the norm in most classrooms, as of 2015. “That, my friends, is a crisis.” School leaders should work to ensure that every student can graduate (from) high school college-or be job-ready, he told the group. “We have less than a generation to turn things around.”
Stress related to poverty can lead to limited working memory that may appear as restlessness, lack of motivation or being easily distracted. In fact, acute and chronic stress, common among children from poverty, can actually lower IQ significantly. Students may fall far behind their peers in reading and other academic skills. Using PET scans, researchers have been able to actually see the difference in working memory between high and low performing students. The real implication of the research for parents and teachers, however, is the finding that these skills can be improved. Brains begin to change when students are routinely curious, anticipate learning and buy-in to lessons, Jensen said. In other words, teachers can actually improve a student’s cognitive capacity and IQ with the proper approaches. There is nothing deficient about the brains of children from poverty; they simply need more practice with the right skills.