Saturday, January 28, 2006

Achievement Gaps and Economics

Here is some food for thought as far as academic achievement gaps and the economic status of students. There is an update in the NEA Today newsletter on how a 5-year old system in a North Carolina county district is going. The system is based on integrating classes not by gender, race, or academic level, but rather the economic status of the family. Ten years ago, only 40% of Black 3rd through 8th graders scored at grade level. Since the adoption of the new integration system, this past year the number of Black students who were at or above grade level hit 80%. And this includes the fact that the number of low income students has actually risen during the past few years by 7-percent.

Research has suggested for quite some time that such an integration scheme helps improve academic achievement for all students involved, and I find this North Carolna success impressive. Lower income students (regardless of race) tend to come from families whose parents have a low education background, and in many cases education is not the priority in the home since parents may work multiple jobs just to put food on the table. Many parents in this position are not as involved in their kids' education as they may wish to be. My experience with juniors and seniors in a low income environment includes the fact that many of those students work numerous hours while still in high school to help the parents out, or to help raise younger siblings. School takes a back seat out of necessity in some cases. Students coming to school from such an environment, who are exposed to peers coming from more comfortable homes where education and achievement are typically a high, if not top, priority with the parents, experience a positive peer pressure to work hard in school and find success along the way. This postiive push and motivation from peers tends to have positive effects all around.

Another education result that is linked to the economics at the home: Students with home computers are 6 to 8 percentage points more likely to graduate from high school (according to a U. of California, Santa Cruz, study). As far as stats go, it is estimated that as many as 50% of Black and Latino students do not have computers in the home (probably safe to say most are low income), while 75% of White students have computers.

It is research and stats such as these, along with a decade's worth of personal experience, that make me want to scream sometimes when someone gets up and insists that money has no effect on education; it is not, of course, the absolute answer to problems with the education system, but there is no question that money does, indeed, play a significant role in many situations.

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