Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Response to the Income Gap Question and Comments.

Bumped to the top from 2009 ...

Let's recap the last few posts, shall we? I've come to the conclusion that the income-scores correlation that shows up in every testing situation is actually rooted in the parents and their attitudes about school and education.

The smarter, motivated, dedicated parent who is demanding of a good education is also likely to have passed similar traits to his child which, while not being a guarantee certainly shows a strong correlation to that child's success. Show me a bored, unmotivated, or stupid child and I'll bet that you've got a bored, unmotivated or stupid parent. We just had open house and all that I saw reinforced my feelings on that - all of the visitors but one was the parent of a hard-working kid.

Yeah, yeah, I know. There are exceptions and everyone can point to the kid who breaks the mold. But averages don't care about your exceptions.

How else to explain that persistent gap between the rich and the poor? There's the racial gap, but that disappears when you control for income. Likewise for the gender gap, or the city-size gap. Examine the increases for repeat test-takers and you can see that even here, the differences aren't as great as that for income.

It's not a simple A-B correlation: More money does not make a kid smarter. The cause-effect isn't there. We need the confounding factor that causes both effects, sort of like the correlation between the amount of "Bling" and the low death rate in cars. Does "Bling" prevent deaths? No, but the ability to afford it means that you can also afford a safer car.
Jonathan asks "If I can paraphrase: Smart adults --> high income, Smart adults --> smart kids. If I have this right (and please correct me if I do not) I think it is bunk."
He then goes on to describe the exact things that do allow a wealthier parent to raise better students (and those traits invariably show up as "being smarter"):
"intellectually enriched environment, ... more expensive towns ... schools maybe not better, but at least better-funded. ... stimulating things around ... babysat by a reader ...more likely to be exposed to culturally enriching stuff. Plays ... the library ... fewer stresses from neighborhood, hunger, family ... depends on the parents' wealth, not on the parents' smarts."
And I agree. But what affects the wealth? I would maintain that any person can rise in this world, though for many it is harder than it is for others (racism, classism, sexism, and bigotry are alive and well -- the situation is improving but.) Being smart and motivated is a good start. Lazy and stupid are starting well behind the stagger.

To truly improve the students' performance, you can't just give them money. You can feed them and eliminate some stresses and move them into a wealthier town ... and get nowhere because that's not the cause in this relationship. You can't just move into a better neighborhood and suddenly improve your scores.

But the better neighborhood DOES have better schools and better students. What is cause and what the effect? We need to look at the acquisition of wealth. On average, which type of person will acquire wealth, a boorish lout or a diligent, studious worker?

Over the population, which group of people will stay in a company and rise in the corporate ladder, the smart and driven ones or the unmotivated slackers? Which type will job-hop (or be fired) and remain at the lowest levels of the many companies' pay-scales? Which type will recover from a major setback or rise from the slum and make something of himself? Which will read books, learn math, and practice speaking without an accent that labels him as uneducated? Which type of person will motivate his kids and provide a richer environment than that of his neighbors? Which single mothers will rise at 4:30am to tutor their children -- the alcoholic or the mother of a future President?
Pissed Off Teacher asks "How about all the money rich parents spend on SAT prep classes and private tutors? Lower income kids cannot get this extra help."
They don't get that help and that's a shame. I'd like to see ALL schools offer a half-credit SAT prep course, basically a review of math and English. Now that they've had a taste of what they'll need it for, they might be prepared to pay better attention and break out of the bad habits that they started school with.

I should also mention that the most-advertised grade bump that Kaplan Test Prep and others provide is simply the elimination of the common mistakes. Meeting once or twice a week for ten weeks is not enough time for more than test-taking strategies and gimmickry. Their "guarantee" of 100-point gains are backed by an offer to retake the course free. If the offer was for your original money back, then I'd listen.

Darren, who's obviously been hearing waaaaay tooo much tax-raising talk from his Governator said...
I know what let's do! Let's tax the rich, and if that doesn't work, let's tax them some more! Then, when there's no rich left, there will be none of this gap between rich and poor!
We'll have to cut him some slack. His "Republican" governor has been sounding like a tax-and-spend liberal Democrat lately.  That and those deficits would make anyone cranky.

So what do we do now?

I'm not entirely sure, to be honest. I'm not sure that the income-gap problem CAN be solved because it has already happened; what we are seeing in our classrooms is the fallout.

We already offer free-or-reduced lunch and breakfast. We already introduce them to the things that make intelligent, well-rounded, and educated people and try to help them break whatever mold they're in. We already offer extra help in the corridors because Packemin HS doesn't have any extra rooms.

What we really need to do is to stop agonizing over scores. We should look for improvement in each student and try not to worry so much about improvement from year to year and from cohort to cohort. We certainly should ignore the idea that 100% will achieve proficiency in four years.

Spending more money on the schools might or might not be the answer -- it really depends on whether you've been spending the right amount in the first place. If you've been undermining the system for years, cutting back further certainly won't help. If you're at the right level of funding, spending more won't help either.

Teach the ones in front of you. Do what you can. Don't try to save the world.

There, I said it.


  1. Make education noncompulsory?

    How do other countries, like India, do it?

  2. I feel as if I have read, though I cannot tell you where, that literally if the family's income increases due to better jobs that student performance also increases.

    I also don't see how the funding has been equalized when you hear about Chicago public schools having something like 60 students in high school classes. If the children really need the extra help and support surely the smaller class sizes would be best? It's what private schools strive to do. I agree that the funding may be there, and simply mismanaged (lord knows that I see how much my school spends on needless professional development meetings that would be better utilized by simply having more staff).

    While I ultimately agree that the things parents do at home certainly have the largest impact on the child, that the culture of poverty isn't something that is always easily overcome, even if the child is exceptionally smart. I work with very underprivileged children who have ultimately given up because they simply can't get their work done at home (online school) because someone is always interrupting them with requests to baby-sit or run an errand or attend to some trifling need of the parent. That the television is not turned off or the noise level reduced when the student is trying to work because that would interrupt everyone else in the house.

    I recently became acquainted with a young mother in poverty through a friend, and she just simply has no idea of what she is doing as a mother, or a model of how to become a good one. Her 1 month old baby sits in front of the TV, she thinks this is cute that the baby is "watching" The Little Mermaid. She would have greatly benefited from some kind of program that checks in on new mothers in poverty and given tips about ways to interact with the child in a developmentally appropriate way. She will probably never have access to give the baby enriching experiences or visit a public library because there isn't one she can access with no vehicle.

    I don't know what all of that is to say, except that I'm not sure that it's all about motivation or that some dogged determination leads everyone to the top. Sure it leads some, but I doubt that is the norm. We just hear those stories more frequently than the story of the person who kept trying but remained at a low level due to being passed over for various reasons.

  3. I love your common sense approach.