This symposium is organized by AERA Division D International Committee to highlight how research can help understand the role of poverty on educational outcomes and how it can guide policy and practice in addressing inequities created by poverty. Participants are accomplished researchers on inequity in their respective countries, Australia, Canada, Germany and the USA, as well as internationally.
Research has shown a clear relationship between poverty and a wide range of social outcomes, which starts at birth and continues throughout childhood, adolescence, and adult life. In childhood, this relationship is evident in higher rates of behavior problems, learning disabilities and problems in cognitive development for children from lower socio-economic backgrounds (SES). The effects of poverty continue and some claim increase, as children enter school, as demonstrated by lower achievement levels, lower levels of engagement in curricular and extra-curricular school activities and lower secondary education completion rates for these children. Adolescents from low SES backgrounds are more likely to be obese and to participate in risk behaviors such as smoking, drug use, and unsafe sexual practices which can ultimately compromise their health and well-being. In adulthood, accumulated societal and educational disadvantages jeopardize their success levels for finding and maintaining employment and access to higher education. These adults are more likely to experience mental and physical health problems, and ultimately die at a younger age.
International assessments of educational outcomes such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) have played a key role in revealing and understanding inequities in dozens of countries participating in these assessments. The association between SES and educational achievement/outcomes is referred to as the socio-economic gradient. There is evidence that even though inequities exist throughout the world, some countries have much lower socio-economic gradients compared to others indicating lower levels of inequity in these countries. These comparative perspectives on inequity led to eye-opening insights in some countries, e.g., Germany and France, with high SES gradients which prompted changes in national policies and practices in education.
The four countries that are the focus in this symposium are all rich countries and have diverse immigrant populations with large proportions of students receiving education in a language different than their mother tongues. Yet, inequities in these countries vary greatly, with Canada and Australia with relatively lower inequities compared to the USA and Germany. The international perspective that will be presented in this symposium will contribute to understanding how societal contexts and education systems contribute to or alleviate inequities. Based on extensive bodies of research on inequity, the participants will provide insights on connections between poverty and education and engage AERA members in an informative and stimulating discussion about factors and mechanisms that lead to lower achievement levels for students from lower SES backgrounds and how research results can be used to inform and affect policy and practice to reduce inequities.