Top Teachers Say Family Stress and Poverty Top List of Education Hurdles

AP Photo/The Daily Gazette, Marc Schultz
AP Photo/Marc Schultz

A survey finds that K-12 teachers feel that family stress and poverty are the top two hurdles students face in getting an education in America today. Psychological problems come in third as a barrier for education.

The survey, released this week by Scholastic, polled the 56 “Teachers of the Year” in every US state, the District of Columbia, Guam, and other jurisdictions, and asked what teachers felt were the biggest problems students faced in the United States.

76 percent of respondents said that family stress was the biggest problems kids face. In fact, family stress was ranked highly not only in poor districts but throughout the country, even in wealthier districts.

“In a rich-kid neighborhood, there’s a completely different set of stresses,” California’s Teacher of the Year Maggie Mabery said. “The role of the teacher has become so much more than student learning. I teach about 50 percent of the time. The rest is coaching kids how to be responsible, how to be a great adolescent.”

But the teachers also felt that poverty was a major problem, with 63 percent placing financial troubles as the second biggest barrier to education.

Accordingly, the top teachers felt that “anti-poverty initiatives” were some of the most important things on which schools should spend their budget dollars.

Despite the major national campaigns by gay groups and other advocates, the teachers ranked “bullying” way down the list, with only 9 percent claiming that kids facing such discrimination was a problem. At 24 percent, even English language limitations ranked higher than bullying.

The teachers also didn’t seem to think that new technology was a pressing need. Additionally, few pointed to a need for more research, and almost none thought more testing was an important focus.

The top teachers, though, did feel that Common Core-style standards will have a positive impact on the nation’s primary education system.

One set of subjects missing from the report seems to be any questions on school choice, vouchers, or charter schools.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston, or email the author at


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