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Fri Jan 3, 2014, 03:03 PM

Education, wealth and school quality

What is the correlation between wealth, educational results and school quality?

If a town/school district is wealthy, does that automatically translate into better schools and educational results?

I was on another forum and somebody I was disagreeing with on another issue also mentioned that individual and town/district wealth is the primary driver of educational quality and results. I had disagreed and said that the quality of the schools and students is more important than wealth, though I have no support for my idea (my google-fu is weak on this one.) other than anecdotal evidence. Am I right or wrong?

My thought being that if 90% of students in the good school district go on to a 4 year college and the "average" student there is still going to what is considered a "good" college, he or she benefits more from the overall educational environment than they would in a school where 50% of the students go on to a 4 year college, and the "average" student is going to what is considered an "average" college, or in a school where only 20% of the students go on to a 4 year college, and only a handful go to a "good" college.

Now, I'm not denying that wealth plays a big role, but I don't think it's the primary driver.

I could be way off base, so let me know.


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Response to NewJeffCT (Original post)

Fri Jan 3, 2014, 03:10 PM

1. Unfortunately those attributes are critically important,

and we've failed miserably to address the resulting issues. Quality of schools and students are a function of wealth here, which results in ability to reach good college.

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Response to elleng (Reply #1)

Fri Jan 3, 2014, 03:19 PM

2. I know wealth is important

but, is it the primary driver?

If I took 5 middle class students from the "average" school's middle school and put them in the wealthy town's "good" school for high school, would their results be the same as if they stayed in their town and went to the "average" high school? And, if I did the reverse and put 5 wealthy kids from the "good" school area, they'd still do just as well in the "average" or "below average" schools?

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Response to NewJeffCT (Reply #2)

Fri Jan 3, 2014, 03:24 PM

3. Depends on lots of things,

like location and culture of each of the towns and schools being compared.

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Response to NewJeffCT (Reply #2)

Fri Jan 3, 2014, 03:56 PM

4. A few decades ago, BEFORE high stakes testing became the norm,

I was in college. One of my courses was "psychological testing." It was a history of such tests and the uses of the data generated, with a big focus on determining the validity and reliability of such measures.

One of the first things that we learned was this: the GREATEST predictor of ANY standardized test score was SES: socio-economic status. Applied to public education, it showed that parent education and income levels were better predictors of a student's, or a school's, standardized test scores than anything a teacher did.

When the "reform" movement came forward with high stakes testing at the state level, before it went federal with NCLB, I went back to my professor from that class and asked him if the tests had evolved, or if somehow those test scores could be a valid measure of schools and teachers. He debunked the reform movement's claims with statistics. Statistics that the general public and the media didn't want to hear, report, or acknowledge.

To counteract this well-known fact, the standards and accountability movement's high-stakes testing drive was promoted with the constant mantra: "We can't worry about the factors we don't control, only those we do." And then the reform moved forward with holding schools and teachers accountable for those test scores, even though the greatest factor was OUTSIDE of our control.

It was a useful gimmick/tool, and has been very successful for the "reform" movement.

These decades later, nothing has changed. The primary "driver" of test scores is still parent SES. How shifting 5 students from one school to another would affect their "achievement" on standardized test scores would be driven by...SES.

The "movement" reminds us constantly that the teacher is the biggest influence IN the building. That's true. Of course, the teacher can only do what the system allows, with the structure and resources the system gives, so that's another limiting factor. Still, the primary driver is SES.

If the nation REALLY wanted to improve school "performance," we'd be eradicating poverty.

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Response to LWolf (Reply #4)

Fri Jan 3, 2014, 04:04 PM

5. OK, how would parent education compare

to parent income levels? Would two parents that are teacher's and both with master's degrees in education do better than a family where one parent had an MBA, but the other "only" a bachelor's degree or associate's, but were much wealthier due to the MBA parent making a 6 figure salary? Is parent education more important than SES? About the same? Less?

Thanks for the detailed response!

Agree on eradicating poverty being the best thing to do.

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Response to NewJeffCT (Reply #5)

Fri Jan 3, 2014, 05:17 PM

6. The statistics don't track things that specifically.

Education levels: high school graduate or not, college graduate or not...not different kinds of degrees. Education and income levels, at least historically, have generally complemented each other

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Response to LWolf (Reply #6)

Fri Jan 3, 2014, 05:29 PM

7. Thanks

I agree that education & income generally correspond with each other. However, two high school teachers with master's degrees could make significantly less than the plastic surgeon, trial lawyer or cardiologist who is married to his or her former assistant who did not attend school after high school graduation.

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Response to NewJeffCT (Reply #7)

Sat Jan 4, 2014, 12:01 PM

10. Teachers make less.

That's a given. We're public servants. People paid for with tax dollars generally, again, make less than those working in the private sector.

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Response to LWolf (Reply #10)

Sat Jan 4, 2014, 05:13 PM

13. Yes, I know teachers make less

but, I've noticed that children of teachers usually perform well in school. (of course, I'm sure there are plenty of exceptions to my anecdotal evidence...)

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Response to NewJeffCT (Reply #13)

Sun Jan 5, 2014, 03:17 PM

16. That's because teachers know about things like

brain development and what grows the neural connections birth through kindergarten needed to perform well academically; those things are part of the culture in more educated and/or intellectual households/families. They are often missing from the culture of the under-educated, of those coming from generational poverty. It's a generational thing.

I myself come from working poor people. They were, though, literate, and that made the difference. My mother brought me up from the cradle talking to me, playing with me, singing to me, reading to me, playing word games, reading with me, and directly interacting with me constantly, despite the fact that she was a working single mom struggling to keep us together. She constantly created and sought out enriched environments and experiences that develop those neural connections so crucial to later learning. She didn't know that's what she was doing. She just loved me, loved being with me and interacting with me, loved words and ideas and exploring and talking and thinking and talking about thinking. I was lucky. Many aren't.

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Response to NewJeffCT (Original post)

Fri Jan 3, 2014, 07:54 PM

8. There's scant good evidence wealth is primary.

We've done most of the money things. Smaller class size, new buildings, new technology, more teacher training, early childhood programs, free/reduced lunches, etc., etc.

Smaller class size is good for groups that need stricter classroom management. That's not AP calculus students. It is most elementary school students and kids who don't want to be in school or lack self-discipline in a school setting.

EC programs lose most of their results in 4th and 5th grade. The results are discernible with large groups when it comes to college attendance, but it's a statistically significant effect, not one that you'd probably notice without crunching a lot of numbers. For middle-class kids EC programs are expensive baby sitting.

All the other options are for kids at the extremes. Those who are chronically hungry, kids in really decrepit schools, etc. That's some schools, but not the general case.

The current mantra is stress. For kids in deep poverty there's stress from chronic problems--chronic hunger, homelessness, violence, dysfunction. It's a serious problem that needs rectifying asap. The stress effects are, sadly, fairly permanent and often irreversible by age 20. But the "really important" studies look at those kids and extrapolate, simply asserting that income = stress and then look at income versus "stress". All the latter studies do is replicate the income vs. academic achievement studies and label income "stress." If you actually *measure* stress from all causes you find that its level tends to stop changing much by the time you measure working poor. Stress by *cause* varies, but cortisol is cortisol and doesn't care about cause. There are exceptions, so it probably still matters, but not in such a simplisticly ideological way.

What's left is fairly well documented.

How parents interact with kids matters. Low SES parents use fewer words, less often, in simpler sentences and simpler narratives than higher SES kids that involve less negotiating and empowerment. The study's been done over and over, for kids of various ages. Hours worked doesn't matter. Unemployed and low SES yields low grade interactions with kids, overemployed and high SES yields higher-result interactions.

Parents' expectations matter. If you expect your kid to be outside playing with friends all summer, that's what happens. If you require that the kid be in a public library reading program, that's what happens. This leads to the next ...

Parental education matters. The kids see that education matters, they don't just hear that it does. Parents can help with schoolwork (or not). Parents model learning--reading, etc.--or not. Education informs interactional styles, as well. And alters expectations as to what the kid can (or can't) do. Educated parents expect their kids to learn year-round. Most learning happens at home, not in the classroom. The parents teach learning skills and study skills. Teachers are called to teach these, usually only when there's a kid failing, when parents don't or can't. By then it's often too late.

The result is that low SES kids aren't as ready to learn how to read. EC programs help, but not enough. Higher SES kids gain education "months" over the summer; they start school in the fall ahead of where they ended it in the spring. Lower SES kids lose months over the summer, and need to be reviewed to regain the months they lost. By grade 7 the EC benefits for low SES kids are swamped by the advantages of higher SES parents. When they get to high school, it's really decisive: the background knowledge of the two groups is rather wide. The higher SES kids have a range of possibilities they think are available to them. Lower SES kids less often think they have options. That's really frustrating.

Most of the benefits, though, don't come from just having more $ or a nice house. Some do: A more stable family, or a family in which losing a mother or father doesn't plunge the household into penury. Space to study. Access to a library. Most benefits are intangible: Use of the library, knowing how to study, being directed to appropriate educational activities.

If you're higher SES, even if you're not educated, your milieu, environment, can help your kid. You know people. They're exposed to more. Their friends have higher expectations, and their friends' parents do, too--assuming that the kid really hangs with those kids. But I've known low SES highly educated people who have all the same expectations and whose kids do better than average. Their milieu can drag them down: friends who frown on studying and excelling in school, more temptations to cut class and avoid studying, etc., can undo the benefits of an educated parent. So it's both best and worst when education and income line up with the appropriate peer group. (Most studies showing mixed classrooms have to features that make them come out ahead: they include social concerns as "academic", so "greater appreciation for diversity" is as important in a math class as math skills; or they use peer tutoring, so that those who 'get it' tutor those who don't and learn it even better. Or they average the high and low achievers' initial abilities, instead of just looking at how it affects high achievers in isolation.)

Then again, I've known low SES kids in bad areas who did really well. And high SES kids in good areas who really screwed up. That's not the way to bet--the outcomes are individual, but the trends are all statistical. I can discuss how 1000 kids are likely to do, but not how a concrete individual will do.

Notice that "SES" has become a bit altered in its meaning. It includes income. It includes wealth. It includes parental education. (And I stop just about there in my definition.) It usually includes geography these days--good neighborhood, bad neighborhood. I've seen family structure lumped in with SES. In some cases that really irk me, and probably, I suspect, just to get the right results, researchers have included *race* under SES, since middle-class African-American kids tend to have lower educational achievement rates than white middle-class families and that can still be attributed to "SES."

That's the long answer. My short answer is that I think wealth is secondary. It's external. Education and the more self-imposed elements of culture are primary for kids. (School is strictly tertiary.) But if you mess with the definition of SES enough, it's all SES--at that point, though, SES isn't primarily economics, so the point stands. The trick is that people shift definitions to yield quaint fallacies--now "SES" isn't mostly money, but in the next sentence it's assumed to be mostly money.

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Response to Igel (Reply #8)

Fri Jan 3, 2014, 08:00 PM

9. Thanks

excellent response. I appreciate all the detail.

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Response to Igel (Reply #8)

Sat Jan 4, 2014, 12:31 PM

11. And the regular, measurable testing gap between middle-class kids and wealthy kids?


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Response to El_Johns (Reply #11)

Sat Jan 4, 2014, 05:12 PM

12. Do good schools & better environments

make better students of the wealthy kids? Or, do the wealthy kids make the good schools & better environments by their presence? I tend to think the first is more true than the second.

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Response to NewJeffCT (Reply #12)

Sat Jan 4, 2014, 11:03 PM

14. Igel claims there's not good evidence that "wealth" is most important. But this just isn't the case.


Parental income/class is the best predictor of standardized test scores, & not just in the US -- in every country you look at, including places like Sweden which supposedly make much more effort to equalize environment & income & enrich learning for all.

And the gap is not just between the poor and everyone else: it's stepwise: the somewhat poor do better than the deeply poor, the middle class does better than the somewhat poor, the upper middle class does better than the middle/working class, and the superrich do better than the upper middle class.

You can speculate about why; my speculation is that it's the cumulative effect of greater access to resources, which includes educated parents that talk to you, take you to lots of learning experiences, having books and other learning tools in the home, having formal enrichment programs, better schools, different expectations and life experiences, more stable home life, better nutrition -- everything and anything you can think of.

And despite the enrichment Igel speaks of, the gap, though it can be reduced, has never been eliminated anywhere to my knowledge.

Of course this is statistical -- individual children may not follow the pattern (the genius from the slums, the poor performer from the 1%) -- but the majority fall within the statistical norm.

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Response to NewJeffCT (Original post)

Sun Jan 5, 2014, 05:12 AM

15. When 22% of all kids in the US don't know where their next meal will come from,

the lack of "wealth" is a mighty distraction from memorizing the multiplication tables.

Thanks for asking.

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Response to snot (Reply #15)

Sun Jan 5, 2014, 08:58 PM

17. You're welcome

thanks for your contribution

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