New report: “family income appears more determinative of educational success than race”

By Robert Mann

The evidence keeps piling up on the relationship of poverty to poor student/school performance. The latest is in a new report, “Poverty and Education: Finding the Way Forward,” released by the Educational Testing Service (ETS).

Image representing Educational Testing Service...

Here are a few excerpts from the report:

While education has been envisioned as the great equalizer, this promise has been more myth than reality. Today, the achievement gap between the poor and the non-poor is twice as large as the achievement gap between Black and White students. The tracking of differences in the cognitive performance of toddlers, elementary and middle school students, and college-bound seniors shows substantial differences by income and/or poverty status. These differences undoubtedly contribute to the increasing stratification in who attends and graduates from college, limiting economic and social mobility and serving to perpetuate the gap between rich and poor. 

Given the strong connection between educational success and economic disadvantage, we might expect education policy to focus on ways to overcome the effects of poverty on children. Yet most of today’s education policies have other foci. This is not to say that alleviating poverty should be the primary purpose of our public schools. The federal government addresses poverty through a variety of programs, services, and adjustments to tax regulations. Each of the 50 states differs widely in the extent to which it focuses on providing education and other services to children in poverty. Together, across all levels of government, scores of programs provide hundreds of billions of dollars to help the poor.

One aim of this report is to review the relationship between poverty and educational and other important life outcomes and to provide a clearer and more nuanced picture of poverty in America, as well as an understanding of how government attempts to address poverty — particularly from an educational perspective. Another aim is to consider the important issue of how poverty is officially measured in the United States and explore several additional aspects of income and poverty that broaden the perspective.

The report’s authors also conclude:

Compared with children whose families had incomes of at least twice the poverty line during their early childhood, poor children completed two fewer years of school, earned less than half as much money, worked 451 fewer hours per year, received $826 per year more in food stamps, and were nearly three times as likely to have poor health. Poor males were twice as likely to get arrested and poor females were five times more likely to have a child out of wedlock. Even after controlling for a variety of background characteristics, Duncan and Magnuson (2011) suggested that a substantial portion of the simple correlation between childhood income and most adult outcomes can be accounted for by the negative conditions associated with birth into a low-income household.

Education has been envisioned as the great equalizer, able to mitigate the effects of poverty on children by equipping them with the knowledge and skills they need to lead successful and productive lives. Unfortunately, this promise has been more myth than reality. Despite some periods of progress, the achievement gap between White and Black students remains substantial (Barton & Coley, 2010). Yet today, income has surpassed race/ethnicity as the great divider. Income-related achievement gaps have continued to grow as the gap between the richest and poorest American families has surged.

As researcher Sean Reardon of Stanford University explained recently in The New York Times: “We have moved from a society in the 1950s and 1960s, in which race was more consequential than family income, to one today in which family income appears more determinative of educational success than race” (Tavernise, 2012, para 4).

Read the entire report at this link.

8 thoughts on “New report: “family income appears more determinative of educational success than race”

  1. Reblogged this on Crazy Crawfish's Blog and commented:
    It has long been known in education circles that poverty is the greatest predictor of student achievement. Those who actually look at education data without preconditions (such as we shall ignore poverty so as not to make it an excuse) understand that recognizing poverty and working to mitigate its impact on our children’s education is the only way we can achieve positive outcomes, and paths out of generational poverty, for many children and families. When we ignore poverty, and other serious mental conditions and unstable family situations we are doing our children no favors. Education reformers will hasten to point to an anecdotal success story, while conveniently overlooking or even hiding the preponderance of failures they create with their own malfeasance and destructive policies. If we truly want to move out society and our people forward, we must address the harsh realities of poverty and understand that the costs and impacts of poverty are not isolated to the poor, but shared by us all.


  2. North Louisianan July 31, 2013 — 11:45 am

    The easiest way to break the cycle of poverty would be for those in poverty to stop having offspring that they cannot support and provide for. It is mind-numbing to me that we haven’t instituted programming to help those in poverty understand that the number of children they produce is the driving force behind the problem. it is my opinion that mandatory birth control for consumers of public assistance would alleviate poverty in America in two generations.


  3. @North Louisianan, it’s people who think like you do who fight against teaching sex ed in school. It’s a fact that the average person on welfare has only 1 – 2 children, which I believe is the average for everyone in this country.


    1. Thanks so much for speaking out against that bigoted comment. Well stated!


  4. North Louisianan August 1, 2013 — 12:07 pm

    I am a school board member, and I actually do support teaching sex education in health class. However, Linda, I think that it’s interesting that you think that having 1-2 children WHILE on welfare is OK. If you cannot support yourself, how on Earth do you think you can support children? It makes no difference if it’s one or ten, if you can’t support them you can’t support them.

    I happen to believe very strongly in charity, I just believe that it is my personal duty as a Christian to be charitable, and NOT a constitutional function of the state.

    Good luck with your strategy of “demonize the opposition” Mr. Mann, but nothing in my response to the article was bigoted.


    1. theantibureaucrat. August 4, 2013 — 11:29 pm

      So, North Louisiana thinks one’s income should decide how many children one should have? Yep. The rich shall inherit the earth? Just because they happened to be born rich? That’s what Christian’s believe? And that’s what Jesus taught? Really?


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