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Future Success Depends More Upon Socioeconomic Status As Opposed to Academic Talent, New Georgetown Study Suggests

A new study from Georgetown University suggests that a child’s success may be more determinant upon life circumstances than innate talent.

Education News

One of the inherent principles of American society is that through hard work, dedication, and effort, all individuals have a chance to succeed and experience success. Access to a high-quality education and the ability for children to develop and grow through the education system is a major component of this principle. Sadly, a new study from Georgetown UniversityBorn to Win, Schooled to Lose: Why Equally Talented Students Don’t Get Equal Chances to Be All They Can Be, suggests that factors such as race and class are a larger determinant of future success versus academic achievement.

One of the more staggering findings from the study was that a child from the bottom quartile of socioeconomic status yet with high test scores in kindergarten only has a 30% chance of obtaining a college education and a good entry-level job. On the contrary, a child in the top quartile of socioeconomic status but with low test scores has a 70% chance of the same.

Across all subgroups, students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds saw drops in their math scores from kindergarten to 8th grade, with this effect particularly pronounced for black and African American students.
Across all subgroups, students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds saw drops in their math scores from kindergarten to 8th grade, with this effect particularly pronounced for black and African American students.

Math levels, particularly as measured during the early grade levels, can be a strong predictor of future success. However, the study found that socioeconomically disadvantaged students with above-median scores in kindergarten were likely to see these gains in high achievement disappear by the 8th grade. “Black kindergarteners who have above-median math scores are much more likely than children of other races and ethnicities to fall behind by eighth grade,” reports the study.

By the 10th grade, achievement patterns begin to stabilize. At this critical point, the data suggests that disadvantaged students from the lowest quartile of socioeconomic status yet with above-median math scores attend college at lower levels than students with lower scores and a higher socioeconomic background.

Despite having above-median math scores, 10th grade students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds were consistently found to have lower university and college enrollment and completion statistics than their counterparts from higher socioeconomic backgrounds.
Despite having above-median math scores, 10th grade students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds were consistently found to have lower university and college enrollment and completion statistics than their counterparts from higher socioeconomic backgrounds.

The study pointed out that despite these statistics that cause alarm, “coming from a poor background does not necessarily determine a child’s economic destiny. Students from poor backgrounds who show academic promise have higher odds of success, particularly if they maintain high math scores in high school.” However, in order to begin to close this gap, recommendations from the report include:

  • Expand academic interventions that start before kindergarten.
  • Continue academic interventions throughout K-12.
  • Improve and expand high school counseling so that more students have the information and social supports they need to transition from high school to postsecondary education and training.
  • Integrate career exploration and preparation into the advising process at the high school and college levels

Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, Born to Win, Schooled to Lose: Why Equally Talented Students Don’t Get Equal Chances to Be All They Can Be, 2019.

Dr. Wallace Ting is originally from Dallas, Texas and began his career in education as a public school mathematics teacher in Texas and New York City (as part of the NYC Teaching Fellows program). He has also worked in international education for a total of 10 years as a Principal, Deputy Director, and Director in Guatemala, Colombia, and Nigeria. Currently, Dr. Ting resides in Orlando, Florida with his young son, Phillip and enjoys playing tennis, camping, and hiking.

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