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  •  For Black kindergartners with math scores in the top half, staying at the top is especially difficult.

    For Black kindergartners with math scores in the top half, staying at the top is especially difficult. | Photo: Reuters

Published 19 June 2019

Regardless of academic ability, poor tenth graders are less likely than their affluent peers to enroll in college, to attend four-year institutions, and to complete college degrees. 

Being born wealthy is a better indicator of adult success in the United States (U.S.) than academic performance, according to a new study from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW).

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“People with talent often don’t succeed. What we found in this study is that people with talent that come from disadvantaged households don’t do as well as people with very little talent from advantaged households,” director of the CEW and lead author of the report, Anthony P. Carnevale, explained.

The researchers assessed intellect based on standardized math tests results from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) following performance since kindergarten through adulthood and categorized students by socioeconomic status considering: household income, parents’ educational attainment and parents’ occupational prestige.

The study revealed that a child from the bottom 25 percent of the socioeconomic spectrum who has high test scores in kindergarten has only a 30 percent chance of having a college education and a good entry-level job as a young adult, compared to a 70 percent chance for a child in the top 25 percent of socioeconomic status who has low test scores. 

The situation continues as they grow older, as regardless of academic ability, poor tenth graders are less likely than their affluent peers to enroll in college, to attend four-year institutions and to complete college degrees. 

“In short, the system conspires against young people from poor families, especially those who are Black or Latino,” the experts conclude. Their research also showed that children from affluent families have a “safety net” that keeps them from lagging behind. 

Carnevale points to a wide range of public policies that could help address educational inequality, including universal preschool, equitable K-12 school funding, counseling and career exploration for young people as they prepare to leave high school. 

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