War on Poverty: Progress and Persistent Inequity

Education Week reflects on the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty and its impact on the lives of children, especially those living in poverty.

War on Poverty: Progress and Persistent Inequity

President Lyndon B. Johnson launched the War on Poverty in 1964. Fifty years later, the faces and dynamics of child poverty in the United States have changed dramatically, but the nation's approach to ending it is still based largely on the policies and programs laid out then.

This series of articles in Education Week, to be gathered over 18 months, reflects on the anniversary of the War on Poverty and its impact on the lives of children, especially those living in poverty.

High Education

War on Poverty College Programs Serving 'Lucky Few'

The college-bridge programs created 50 years ago through the War on Poverty were never designed—or funded—to serve all the students who need them. Read the story →

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Left: High school sophomore Starla C. Bright tells how Upward Bound has affected her life.

Early Learning

Head Start Endures, Evolves as 50-Year Milestone Nears

The ambitious early-childhood program launched in 1965 as part of the War on Poverty is going through dramatic—and sometimes painful—changes, while continuing to pursue its mission. Read the story →

Left: Ceremony for National Head Start Day on June 30, 1965, at the White House. Front row, right to left: Sargent Shriver, who spearheaded the program as director of the Office of Economic Opportunity; Lou Maginn, director of a Head Start project in Vermont; Lady Bird Johnson; entertainer Danny Kaye; and Mr. Shriver's sons Robert Shriver and Timothy Shriver. —The Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library-File

Timeline: Head Start's Journey
Explore the War on Poverty's landmark program aimed at helping young children through this interactive timeline as the program approaches its 50th anniversary. Browse the timeline →

Audio Interview: The Evolution of Head Start
On the cusp of Head Start's 50th anniversary, Edward F. Zigler reflects on the program's formation, its strengths, and his hopes for Head Start's future. Listen →

Born Amid Tumult, Head Start Deeply Rooted in Mississippi
Community connections forged during the civil rights era have helped sustain Head Start as a powerful presence for generations of Mississippians. Read the story →

Multigenerational Programs Aim to Break Poverty Cycle
New efforts are looking to help both children and their parents get a leg up and a better education. Read the story →

Head Start's Acting Director Reflects on Program as 50th Anniversary Nears
Requiring some Head Start providers to recompete for federal funding has been difficult, but will ultimately strengthen the program, says acting director Ann Linehan in a wide-ranging interview. Read the story →

School Meals

School Meal Programs Extend Their Reach

Fifty years after the War on Poverty, child hunger persists despite deepened understanding of the problem and growing efforts to extinguish it. Read the story →

Left: Nicohles, Destiny, and Desiree Kleis, from left, eat lunch inside the lunch bus in Pasco County, Fla. A growing number of school districts are creating mobile meals programs to keep children well-fed over the summer.—Melissa Lyttle for Education Week

Housing Assistance

50 Years Later, Housing Programs' Reach Is Limited

The housing programs expanded through the War on Poverty provide stability for many assisted families, but their children still often grow up in concentrated poverty. Read the story →

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Left: A single mother of four describes what it's like to raise a family in Potomac Gardens, a massive 1960s-era public housing project in Washington.

Beyond ZIP Codes: Districts Look to Promote Economically Integrated Schools
When housing programs fail to break up concentrated poverty in neighborhoods, some experts argue that school districts should step in to promote economic diversity in the classroom. Read the story →


50 Years Later, War on Poverty Yields Mixed Success

While child poverty remains a stubborn enemy, the federal anti-poverty initiative launched by President Lyndon B. Johnson has led to health and IQ gains for disadvantaged students. Read the story →

Then and Now: Children play at recess outside of Hays-Porter Elementary School in Cincinnati's West End neighborhood. The yearbook photo on the left depicts the neighborhood around 1990. On the right, Aaryn Hill, 9, and her 2nd grade classmates stand in the same spot earlier this month. —Photos from left: Hays-Porter Elementary School, Swikar Patel/Education Week

Timeline: The War on Poverty
Many of the initiatives launched under President Johnson's social programs were designed to reduce poverty through education and child health. Explore the major events →

Still Segregated After 50 Years: A Visit to Cincinnati's West End
Fifty years after the War on Poverty began, schools serving children in Cincinnati's West End are still largely segregated by economics and race. Read the story →

Explore the Data

Analysis Points to Growth in Per-Pupil Spending—and Disparities

Since the War on Poverty, the average gap in per-pupil spending between two states grew by 256 percent, an Education Week analysis finds. Read the story →

A Look at Child-Poverty Rates →

Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Education Week looked at the trends over time of children under 18 living in poverty. Use this interactive to explore the year-by-year overview.

Exploring Per-Pupil Spending →

Per-pupil school spending has skyrocketed since the 1960s—as have the disparities among states. Use this visualization to see what your state is spending. Additional charts illustrate changes in state per-pupil spending from 1969-70 to 2009-10 in inflation-adjusted dollars.

A version of this article appeared in the January 22, 2014 edition of Education Week