News Release

To Improve Academic Achievement, Look Outside the Classroom

New Report Examines Factors that Influence Student Achievement, Urges Investment in “Social Determinants of Education”

MEDIA CONTACT: Gretchen Wright, 202-421-5830,

January 20, 2022 (Atlanta, GA) — Race- and income-based gaps in academic achievement are a function of deep and historical disparities in our society and our public policies. Schools, alone, cannot overcome these disparities to ensure every child has the high-quality education they need to succeed and thrive. To advance education equity, public policies must address a range of extra-academic issues. That’s the resounding message of a report released today by the Southern Education Foundation (SEF) that provides insights into a range of out-of-school factors affecting education and academic achievement.

The report, Economic Vitality and Education in the South Part I: The South’s Pre-Pandemic Position (EVES I), provides 2019 data for Black and Hispanic children and youth, those living in low-income families, and Black and Hispanic working-age adults on a range of issues. Those include poverty and food insecurity, housing, interaction with the criminal justice system, workplace practices, childcare and early childhood education, and student discipline. The report recommends that state and federal lawmakers adopt a “Social Determinants of Education” framework for public policy to address the persistent disparities outside the classroom that perpetuate disparities in students’ academic achievement.

EVES I finds that students of color and students from low-income families face significant inequities in all these areas compared with their White peers and indicates how these factors affect students’ ability to access a high-quality education. These disparities are more pronounced across the 17-state SEF region, which includes Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.

“While SEF’s focus has always been on education equity, we recognize that to achieve that equity, public policies and practices must also address the persistent disparities that exist beyond school walls for Black and Brown adults, low-income earners, women, and adults with low educational attainment levels,” said SEF President and CEO Raymond Pierce. “This is especially true in Southern states, which are home to a high percentage of vulnerable populations and are among the states with the lowest rankings for educational attainment, income, employment, and other economic measures.”

According to the report, across the SEF region:

  • Children qualified for the free and reduced-price lunch program, faced food insecurity, and lived in poverty at higher rates compared with the nation overall. SEF states are home to 41 percent of the nation’s children and 46 percent of the nation’s children living in poverty.
  • Black students faced school suspensions, referrals to law enforcement, and school-related arrests at disproportionately higher rates compared with their Hispanic and White peers. Of those referred to law enforcement, 35 percent were Black, despite Black students representing only 23 percent of the total student population. White students make up 44 percent of all students in the South and 36 percent of those referred to law enforcement.
  • Black and Hispanic people were overrepresented among those living in poverty, with 21 percent of Black people and Hispanic people living in poverty, compared with 11 percent of White people.
  • On average, Black households brought in $22,000 less than White households.
  • Black residents still made up nearly half of all residents living in formerly redlined neighborhoods – those historically identified by the real estate community and mortgage lenders for discriminatory policies and lending practices that enforced de facto racial and economic segregation.
  • Childcare costs rose to nearly one-quarter of the average Black family’s household income, compared with 14 percent for White households.
  • Larger proportions of Black and Hispanic students performed below the median on national assessments of fourth-and eighth-grade reading and math skills compared with White students.
  • Black and Hispanic adults had lower rates of postsecondary completion compared with White adults. Twenty-two percent of Black adults and 20 percent of Hispanic adults held at least a Bachelor’s degree, compared with 34 percent of White adults.
  • Adults with lower levels of educational attainment earned less and were more likely to be living in poverty or to be facing unemployment than their more educated peers.
  • Black and Hispanic adults were less likely to be employed than their White peers. The unemployment rates for Black and Hispanic adults were 7.1 percent and 4.5 percent, respectively compared with 3.8 percent for White adults.

“Children’s educational opportunities are inextricably linked to where they live,” said EVES I author and Senior Research & Policy Analyst Meagan Crowe. “Most public school students attend schools in their communities. When those communities are largely low-income, the schools tend to be underfunded and under-resourced. Moreover, students who have to move often, who face food insecurity, or who are suspended or expelled from school tend to suffer academically. Trying to improve our education system without addressing the range of out-of-school factors that affect students’ achievement is inadequate and doomed to failure.”

EVES I includes a series of federal and state policy recommendations within SEF’s Social Determinants of Education framework for addressing each of the issues highlighted in the report. It also provides a visual representation of that framework.

EVES I is the first of two reports SEF is releasing that examine out-of-school factors affecting education. The second report, Economic Vitality and Education in the South: Part II Projections for a Post-Pandemic South (EVES II) will examine the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the workforce (particularly on workers of color, women, and low-wage workers) and how those changes are affecting students. It will also discuss the implications of those changes for educators trying to prepare students for occupations that may not yet exist.

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Originally founded in 1867 to educate Black children and children from low-income families in the South, the Southern Education Foundation also has a long history of developing leaders in education and was a pivotal source of research and data to support legislation and litigation aimed at fighting inequity in education during the civil rights era. The organization today conducts leadership development, research, and advocacy to improve educational opportunities for students of color and students from low-income families and achieve educational equity in the southern U.S. It is based in Atlanta, Georgia. Find out more at