We know that the link between a child’s socio-economic status (SES) and school achievement is real, it is a very tight link as such things go, and the link has existed for decades. Here, for example, is a recent Missouri report; here is a graph for PA PSSA data, from a blogger:
Here’s another from a recent dissertation.
Ever since the Coleman report in the 60s and the controversial book The Bell Curve by Herrnstein and Murray in the 1990’s dozens of studies keep finding the same thing: socio-economic status is correlated with student achievement. (We leave the related but different problem – the achievement gap between Asians, whites, blacks, and Hispanics – for another day: that is a related but different set of issues.)
The question I have is – why does SES predict achievement so well – not just at the extremes, but all along the graph? The older I get, the less sense it makes. And the more it is clear that a glib single-cause explanation of it is unacceptable.
I have been pondering this for decades. I was stunned as a teacher by the College Board data for the SATs. That data, then as now, shows that SAT scores go up in perfect tandem with $20,000-dollar family income amounts. Here is the 2012 data:
|Family Income||Critical Reading||Mathematics|
|0$ – $20,000||433||461|
|$20,000 – $40,000||463||481|
|$40,000 – $60,000||485||500|
|$60,000 – $80,000||499||512|
|$80,000 – $100,000||511||525|
|$100,000 – $120,000||523||539|
|$120,000 – $140,000||527||543|
|$140,000 – $160,000||534||551|
|$160,000 – $200,000||540||557|
|More than $200,000||567||589|
Pause, consider: does this make sense to you as an educator? Does it make any sense that the amount of money the parents make at each level is a better predictor of the SAT score than, say, the number of advanced courses, the size of the school, the length of service of the teacher, or the amount of TV watched by kids? Again, we are not just comparing rich and poor at the margins (which seems more common-sensical). No, the data correlate all the way along. Why would someone whose parents make $80,000 dollars per year in general have higher SAT scores than someone whose parents make $60,000 dollars per year? On the face of it, that should strike us as odd. We should have long ago asked: what gives here?
In a concise and readable article in American Educator Spring 2012 (as part of his ongoing delightful series entitled “Ask the Cognitive Scientist”) Daniel Willingham summed up what we think we now know about the SES/Achievement correlation this way:
“On average, kids from wealthy families do significantly better than kids form poor families. Household wealth is associated with IQ and school achievement, and that phenomenon is observed to varying degrees throughout the world. With a more fine-grained analysis, we see associations with wealth in more basic academic skills like reading achievement and math achievement. And the association with wealth is still observed if we examine even more basic cognitive processes such as phonological awareness, or the amount of information the child can keep in working memory.”
However, care is needed. This is “on average.” The key word in all of this is ”association” or correlation. As researchers never tire of saying (though we never tire of forgetting) correlation is not causality. The data do not prove that parental income causes student achievement any more than the correlation of smoking and alcoholism means that one causes the other.
He concludes his introduction to the summary of findings with this caveat:
But these effects are not due to household income alone. In fact it’s unlikely that they are directly due to income at all…. The effects of wealth must be indirect and must accrue over time.
Do you see the oddity more clearly? Money alone is unlikely to be the determining factor: the SES/achievement link is tight but indirect; it accrues over time. But across the board? The indirectness is another way of saying: opaque; it means that we are guessing about the meaning of the correlation. And to my eye, many of the guesses are implausible because they make the fatal mistake of inferring a single cause or two.
Numerous studies and policy recommendations, for example, have made bold claims about poverty as the key (direct) cause. Here is an often-cited address by Helen Ladd; here and here are two views by respected researcher David Berliner; here is another respected researcher making the case. Here is a typical newspaper article in which policy-makers rely on the causal case.
Yet, there are plenty of highly-respected researchers on the non-causal side. Here is a summary of Harvard’s Paul Peterson’s critique of the poverty-as-cause theory; here is the full article. (Here is a summary of the argument between Ladd and Peterson.) Here, here, and here are often-cited analyses questioning the link by stressing the role of good teaching.
What should we conclude? It seems clear to me: that we still don’t really understand the correlation or exactly where and to what extent we should be fatalistic or optimistic about the power of schooling.
LET’S BE LOGICAL. I am not saying that poverty plays no role in achievement. I am not saying that the correlation between SES and achievement is false. I am merely stating the obvious, given the data – we still don’t really understand the indirectness of the correlation and the fact that across the range of SES student achievement is predictable:
1) the graphs above are curious if we believe that schooling and teachers make a difference in people’s lives. It is unclear and counter-intuitive why a family making 60,000 dollars per year should produce children with higher SAT performance or state test performance than a family making 50,000 per year.
2) We often fail to keep in mind the indirect role of SES. SES has no direct bearing on what students accomplish in school. Nothing that happens in school directly involves parental income or requires it. So, the fact that achievement correlates with parental income involves some connection that people keep speculating about. So, it is still reasonable to ask, in the face of the long-time correlation: why should an indirect relationship be more salient than a direct relationship, such as the caliber of the teaching, class size, or the rigor of the curriculum – for an entire 12-year academic career in which kids spend 6 hours a day or more in school? Do readers believe that most schools are that ineffective?
3) It doesn’t follow from the data that schools in poor neighborhoods are “bad” and schools in wealthy suburbs are “good”. Indeed, if this were true, all along the SES continuum, then the SES/parental income graph would be far less important and would likely look different: better schools would correlate with better achievement; so, we would just make bad schools more like good schools. But that isn’t what the data or my own career says is true.
Hmm, what about the so-called good schools? Well, this is where the issue becomes interesting to me as a life-long educator and reformer. The correlation between SES and school achievement has remained steady in spite of over two decades of school reform, and achievement gaps exist in almost all “good” districts and schools.
Worse, various attempts to study the supposed value added from schools have turned up dispiriting results. I know of one prep school that commissioned an internal study and found there to be NO GAIN over 4 years on measures of critical thinking. Colleges and researchers have found similar results using the CLA. I know for a fact (though, good luck getting the schools to report it) that some private schools have data to show that incoming SSAT scores perfectly predict SAT scores by the time the kids graduate. Another related clue: even in the most elite schools and colleges, pre-assessment and post-assessment on tests of science misconceptions (such as the FCI in Physics) show remarkably little gain.
It’s thus odd and frustrating for educators who believe strongly in the good schooling does to see this data. Somehow, in general, schools are not very effective – schools all along the continuum of neighborhoods. What should we make of this?
LOOK AT THE OUTLIERS. Yet, fatalism is not warranted by the data, either, because the data represent trends not truth, as Willingham says in his conclusion. This is clear from the graphs, too: there are outliers on all such graphs. There are successful schools at all points on the spectrum; there just aren’t many of them. We learn the same thing from value-added data about teachers studied over multiple years: some teachers have an extraordinary impact, in some cases adding an entire extra year of achievement to a class. The outliers are not just statistical noise. Here, here, here, here, and here are some sources of outliers nationally. There are numerous teachers in schools, schools in districts, and states in the nation that are outliers to the general trend (even if many of the outliers have ended up being disappointing or perhaps fraudulent).
[Since I first posted this article, I found a site with excellent data on SES vs. Reading Achievement, in an interactive graph. It is filled with named outliers. A printout of the graph for NY State can be found below, at the very end of this article.]
What, then, are the educational outliers – be they in data about teachers, schools, or best practices – trying to tell us (in their small number)?
In an earlier blog post I noted that Hattie found that the effect size of SES is just under .60 – a sizable effect, but not the most robust of all effects. This raises two puzzles: why would SES be more influential then, say, computer-assisted instruction, individualized instruction, and homework (to pick 3 examples from Hattie’s data that have effect size far less than SES), while the following have a significantly greater effect size than SES:
- Student self-assessment/self-grading
- Providing formative assessments
- Classroom discussion
- Teacher clarity
- Spaced vs. mass practice
- Meta-cognitive strategies taught and used
Here, to my mind, is a clue, then: these interventions (and almost all the other 31 interventions with an effect size greater than SES) have to do with excellent though not-very-widespread teaching and research-based practices directly linked to learning, (as opposed to more indirect policies/structures like schedules, technology, or class size). Ask yourself, honestly: have you ever seen a school that did everything on the 7 elements above or Hattie’s complete list of 31 with fidelity? Have you ever seen a school that did everything on Marzano’s, Lezotte’s or Edmonds’ list of effective school correlates with fidelity? Neither have I.
So, that raises a different question: if there are special conditions that indeed raise achievement across the board, why is it so rare to have those conditions in one place?
10 PLAUSIBLE THEORIES. I can think of 6 general reasons that, on their face, might explain why SES/Achievement correlates and why outlier successes haven’t borne fruit more generally:
- SES links to genetic/health factors that determine levels of achievement
- SES is a marker for home-life conditions that determine levels of achievement
- Schooling is mostly ineffective at all levels
- Schools resist fundamental and sweeping changes
- Professional development is mostly a failure
- What we measure is invalid and misleading
There are a few wrinkles within the categories, so I derive a total of 10 plausible theories we need to consider collectively (while casting some doubt on each of the 10 as I pose it):
- School as we know it and keep it reflects IQ, IQ is pretty fixed, so school cannot ever make much of a difference. (This is pretty much the Murray thesis from 20 years ago. Seems excessively fatalistic, and naïve about IQ vs. the particulars of school).
- Parental income is a marker for pre-school conditions and behaviors in the home (what Willingham calls “family investment”). The poorer the family, the less likely the child is ready in terms of schooling-related enablers: habits, vocabulary, thinking, and experience. And pre-school entry-level abilities are life-determining. (But why can’t the gap be made up by all the intensive schooling we do? Don’t we see some narrowing of the gap in schools that attend to this?)
- Parental income is a marker for ongoing parental support of schooling and school-related behavior once the student is in school. No doubt this links to mobility/attendance issues, too. (But that doesn’t explain to me why middle-class kids don’t do as well as upper-middle class kids. And do we really think that all along the income curve parenting gets “better”? Seems pretty glib to me.)
- Parental income is a marker for student health (what Willingham calls “stress” theories). This is the research in Paul Tough’s recent book, and Willingham devotes considerable attention to it. (But then why aren’t upper-middle class kids struggling academically, since they are arguably under a lot of stress? And why doesn’t anyone call attention to how dreadful many of the schools are that Tough describes? Having spent lots of time in schools, I find much of the urban school experience boring and dispiriting myself: cf. Haberman’s famous paper on the Pedagogy of Poverty)
- Poorer children have access to inferior schools compared to children of the more wealthy. Corollary: those schools are underfunded. (While perhaps true at the margins, there is little evidence to support this view along the whole curve. And money spent on improved schooling has not shown to be a driver in changing the curve, especially in terms of Federal dollars).
- So-called ‘good’ schools provide no more value added than ‘bad’ schools. The ‘good’ kids just start out more able and willing to do well at the thing we call school. (Seems implausible that good schools aren’t good.)
- Schooling as we conduct it is dysfunctional overall, except for a few outliers bucking centuries of tradition: it is pre-modern, fixated on grade-level content coverage rather than talent development, and is lacking in quality control of teaching, student peer pressure is stronger than school values, etc. so the ‘givens’ trump the weak interventions. (An interesting angle; again, it seems implausible that most schools, even “good” ones, have so little effect.)
- Though schools are often ineffective, they strongly resist sweeping change, due to dysfunctional politics, naivete about reform, contractual obstacles, inertia, and inadequate systems for causing effective change internally. (This seems true over the last 25 years in the face of so much reform, but given the incentive to improve schools in the face of NCLB, why would inertia trump incentive?)
- Though schools need to change and often initiate changes, they stand little likelihood of success because ‘best practice’ is rarely taught to teachers in pre-service and in-service professional development is notoriously poor; and even when PD is decent, there is far too little time and space to practice and internalize it with coaching and feedback. (Seems true, but why is PD still so poor in the face of accountability, budget crises, and knowledge about ‘best practice’?)
- Because our testing systems do not measure growth and the value added by schooling very well, we misjudge the schools’ effectiveness; the correlation of one-time scores with SES is thus beside the point. And since IQ correlates with SATs and state test scores, what is likely happening is that tests unwittingly reflect given abilities rather than genuine educational attainments. This was McClleland’s argument over 40 years ago and central to my work in authentic assessment over the years. (Plausible, but it seems like a stretch to say that the vast array of data we have and have been using for decades is completely off the mark.) A corollary here: the SES/achievement correlation may be a data trend, but people have sloppily gotten into the habit of communicating and calling it a truth.
The first 5 theories basically presume that the non-school factors are quite powerful and outweigh the good that school does. #6 – #9 say that fatalism is unwarranted, that school does matter in theory, but that there aren’t either enough good schools or enough good teachers for poor children. #10 suggests that we have been looking in all the wrong places to explain the correlation, that if we had better measures (or more precise communication about the data) the problem might be completely re-defined.
I’ll explain in a later post my own theory. (Hint: the outliers + no single theory as adequate). Meanwhile, do you have a theory or combination of the 10 factors for a sensible and thorough explanation for the correlation of parental income and achievement? Let’s hear it! Try not to cherry-pick or rationalize ad hoc a pre-existing belief. Clearly, no single theory has been useful so far in greatly improving education nationally, so any theory that is likely to be useful moving forward is going to have to address most of these issues, not just one.
PS: A week after I posted this, the NAEP Governing Board released a report in which SES is to get re-defined and better identified.
PPS: As mentioned above, I have since found a great site for looking at SES vs. Reading in an interactive graph here. Here is their graph for NY State, including NY City schools. Note that there are over 3 dozen genuine outliers:
FURTHER: A few months after I wrote this post, the following explanation appeared in the NY Times, written by Stanford Professor Sean Reardon.
It’s a thorough discussion of the issue of poverty as it relates to achievement. There are several elements of truth in your 10 explanations (3, 4, and 5, especially). One thing you don’t discuss is the impact of student mobility. Yes, a good school with effective, dedicated teachers can cover much of the gap we see among the home conditions of our students. But students in poverty move around a lot. These kids never get to build relationships with their teachers.
On the dataset in particular, I see more outliers among the poverty group than the affluent group. This tells me that there are more homes with the coupling of poverty and high expectations than there are with the coupling of affluence and low expectations. Some families lack resources but still work to give their children better lives.
I agree that mobility is likely to be a factor in the difference between high and low SES, as is higher levels of absenteeism, but I’m not sure I see how that would lead to the correlation all along the income spectrum. However, I am greatly intrigued with your last paragraph, which leads me to wonder what we can do to change the equation. I am a huge proponent of early childhood programs that “reparent the parent” – how do we break the cycle? Can we teach parents to demonstrate high expectations, and thus impact achievement? Lots of things to ponder – more questions than answers.
I agree that both mobility and absence are issues. Indeed, in today’s Smartbrief there is a new study talking about chronic absence and low scores. But, again, that doesn’t explain why middle-class schools are outperformed by upper-middle-class schools.
Can one of the answers be as simple as poorer students needing more instructional hours? Perhaps the success of unionization has been to build schools fundamentally designed to the needs of the children of the affluent.
Poor kids don’t just need good, they need more. But it’s difficult to measure effective instructional hours separate from students’ overall performance.
Specifically in regards to SES and family income, the data may not good enough to separate more school hours from more effective instruction.
More is not necessarily the answer- and it comes with consequences. We should be able to educate children within the frame of a 6 hour school day. This really isn’t rocket science. We have very minimal access to high quality preschool programs for anyone who is lower middle class to poor. I have worked in programs that offer preschool services to low income families. Often they are guessing as to how to instruct and prepare the children for kindergarten based on their own anecdotal knowledge and driven by parent preferences. Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s awful. Mostly it’s in between. Our special needs children do not get the early intervention that is appropriate for remediation. We cannot expect to dramatically cut and gut early intervention programs and preschool access and wonder why we can’t play catch up in kindergarten.
In British Columbia, we have a test called the Foundational Skills Assessment (FSA), which is given in 4th grade, and then a different version is given in 7th grade. The Fraser Institute, a Conservative economic think-tank, uses the data from the FSA to rank schools. As it turns out, their report also publishes the median family income for the schools in their ranking. I correlated the two variables from their 2011 report, and created this graph: http://davidwees.com/content/relationship-between-family-income-and-fsa-score
You’ll notice that the Fraser institute school ranking based on FSA results do have a correlation with income, but that the relationship is not as strong as the relationship between SATs and family income. This is most likely because the Fraser institute uses other variables as well in their ranking system, but it could point to a deeper issue – educational outcomes may be more equitable here in BC.
I wonder – what is the relationship between how well a school is funded and the SAT results for said school. Do you know of research linking those two variables?
I need to go find it and include it (since I quickly note it but don’t support it with links), but as I noted this has been a sore point for liberals because many districts in poor urban districts are now well funded per pupil, but gains have been minimal or non-existent. As I will argue in my follow-up post, this is NOT a surprise since the money is not used to do much of anything different.
If you or any other reader can find data about per pupil expenditure and achievement all along the SES continuum (not just at the margins), that would be useful.
Yes, that makes sense. More money doesn’t make a difference if you use it to do more of the same.
I wonder though, would more money for a district translate into higher salaries for teachers, which should, provided the salaries are competitive compared to the adjacent affluent districts, draw in a wider pool of teacher candidates for a school district. One may see no difference in student learning in the short term (most of your teachers are drawn from the same pool as before) but one might see a change in the long term (after long enough that the pool of teachers drawn to the poorer district is more comparable to the affluent school district).
Focusing on teacher quality alone is not the answer. Concerning student outcomes, In school influences account for about 20% of which 1/2 is attributable to teacher effects. 60% is attributable to out of school factors and the remaining 20% is noise, meaning things not measured or not seen. Ignoring out of school factors in low performing schools turns a blind eye to the actual source of the problems affecting in school performance. Expecting schools to compensate for that is completely unrealistic and using schools as a portal for efforts that do is problematic. To echo Jeri Hammond above: ” I am a huge proponent of early childhood programs that “reparent the parent” – how do we break the cycle?”
As a teacher, I definitely appreciate your thoughts and agree wholeheartedly with most of them, but your point about “stress” theories in reference to Paul Tough’s recent book is missing the character aspect in combination with the stress that is a focus in his book. Also, there are several studies which show that low SES students who initially test low in IQ show an increase in scores after a positive enviroment change. How do account for that?
Agreed on not mentioning the character aspect. But while to me the character/grit issues is the most interesting part of the book to me as an educator, it doesn’t seem quite as relevant to the SES/ achievement equation, so I left it out. Because surely character is not related to SES negatively. If anything, positively: I find less well-off kids far more gritty and persistent than upper-middle-class kids. (Again, recall that we have to look all along the curve not just at the extremes.) In other words, it may well be that character is a predictor of rise out of poverty but that’s not quite what we’re looking at here (unless we believe that school can develop character – when it seems to have a hard time just teaching reading well to everyone.)
But schools do develop character. When students must stand in line to go through the halls, be quiet during a test, raise hands to ask a question, show patience and kindness to others who struggle- what is that but character development?
Daniel Willingham has considered it:
And the problem with online reading is that one (me) does not read as closely as they would a printed copy.#digitalimmigrant.
Sorry for re-posting the link above which appears in the article..
You must not have read my full post 🙂 I drew heavily from his article, but note: he never mentions in his article the issue of the power of school or good teaching; he only looks at the likely reasons for SES determining achievement indirectly. So, what I’m really doing is expanding his set of categories as to possible reasons for the correlation.
Agree that poverty alone does not cause slow learning. That is why many depend on us having the racist belief that all poor kids of color are the same, are struggling, and their school saved them. In reality more specific issues must be noted. Issues such as childhood stress, malnutrician, chronic illness, lack of parental support etc. really slow learning.
So if you want a “good school” choose poor kids of color who have a strong support system and break your arm patting yourself on the back. Political trickery abounds.
Agreed that those things inhibit or undercut learning in the poor, but any robust theory has to explain why middle-class kids (who presumably have only modest stress/illness/lack of support) don’t perform as well as upper-middle-class kids (who presumably have as much stress/illness/lack of support as middle-class kids). That’s the part of this that demands more attention, that the relationship goes all along the line. If you were right and it was the most salient variable, then the correlation would weaken in the upper SES ranges; it doesn’t.
But you are making an assumption. Is that correct? Middle SES students and high SES students have the same stress/illness/support levels? How do you know this? Is there a peer-reviewed and replicated study that shows this? If not, maybe you are incorrect in your assumption.
I find it a bit odd that you say that poverty alone doesn’t cause slow learning and then go on to cite most all of the effects of poverty that do. When discussing poverty in the context of education, the last thing most all of us are talking about is a financial comparison. We are in fact talking about the effects of poverty you described. http://www.haaretz.com/business/the-psychological-poverty-trap-1.414260 AND http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/06/15/1100252/-Systemic-Poverty-the-Psychology-of-Poverty-and-Misleading-Binaries
I’m interested in your comment about Marzano and other research-based teaching methods. Our district has adopted Marzano’s teacher-evaluation system, and we’re learning a great deal about his recommended teaching-techniques. They seem very reasonable on the surface, but I’ve watched several of the videos on his website that present what he considers exemplary teaching, and if I had to be in class six hours a day with some of those teachers, I’d go out and hang myself. They are boring beyond belief. I suddenly feel that accountants (or Myers-Briggs personality-type ISTJ) are dictating how we should teach, and the whole process is like going through frequent IRS audits. His methods may make a difference to the achievement (whatever that means) of lower SES students, but I don’t think his dry, boring, concrete, sequential, cookie-cutter approach would work for higher SES students.
I think you are onto something important. Many of the so-called research-based practices suffer from the same correlation/causality issues. As I have long argued, until and unless we design school backward from truly outstanding curriculum, instruction, and assessment we are grasping at correlational straws.
Poverty is stigmatized to some extent, and I suspect that most of us probably have at least some subtle prejudices regarding poverty. I would guess that those factors are responsible for some of the achievement differences.
But, would we be surprised if people that did well in school, on average, made more money than those that didn’t? Would we be surprised if children of students that did well in school, on average, also did well in school? That would explain the association. Similar argument for those that did really well in school vs. those that did fairly well. Doesn’t mean we should be happy with the size of the gaps, but it does make sense that there are gaps.
Of course there are many exceptions. But, the displays you have shown are of averages. Each point on the plot is an average of all the students in that district. Each line on the table of SAT scores is an average of all the students taking the SAT in a given income band. If you looked at individuals students instead of averages, the association would be much, much weaker.
Why would better schools, or better teachers or intensive schooling close a gap unless we withhold these things from the higher achieving group? Wouldn’t you expect the school side of things to have no affect on the gap while the other factors would continue to increase the gap?
A lot of value added reasoning is circular – especially when comparing teachers and schools for high poverty students to teachers and schools for low poverty students. The value added formulas are explicitly set so that, on average, teachers and schools for high and low poverty students will be rated the same.
Here’s a hypothesis: as household income increases, the amount of money spent by parents on outside private tutors or tutoring services for their children increases proportionally. This leads, therefore, to higher performance on standardized tests.
Anyone know if this data exists anywhere?
It’s far more complex than just the question of tutors, the higher the SES the more varied (and inaccessible to lower SES) the informal out of school enrichment is. Travel to different cultures / parental homelands, variety and length of vacations, all sorts of context shifting things that require the rapid adoption of different frames of reference. For starters.
I definitely agree with your line of thinking. However, my goal was to formulate a hypothesis that would be easier to verify or refute than “richness of experience correlates with SES correlates with higher performance on standardized tests”.
The research I’ve read shows the better correlation between achievement (at least in higher ed) as SES is better correlated to familial net worth (in particular of parents and grandparents) rather than parental income. The explanation I have for this relationship is that higher net worth allows people to make short-term (several years and thousands of dollars) investments in time and money for making college their number one priority that have long-term payoffs. People without sufficient net worth have no buffer to make that tradeoff.
Note that in many cases, minorities in the U.S., have improved incomes vs. 50 years ago, but don’t have the generational accumulated wealth that white folks (like me) do. Studies linking success to race usually overlook the various measures of SES. However, even with recent improvements in income for US minorites, the expected improvement in academic success haven’t kept up. Again, my analysis is that income is the wrong measure of SES to use. At least, it should be used exclusively. Income is often used simply because it is an easier data item to get one’s hands on than accumulated familial wealth.
My parents had a relativly modest income, but I come from a family with significant geneartional wealth. I know I could afford to make college my #1 priority without needing to work to pay my own way or support my immediate or extended family. I watch many of my students take time and focus away from their studies to support their immediate and extended families either as breadwinners or caregivers because their families lack the accumulated wealth to deal with short-term issues.
Similarly, I’ve been able to support my own children as they went throgh college so they didn’t have to work on the side to support themselves. Those that took jobs while in college did so to pad their resume, not for they money – my support enabled them to take lower paying jobs that looked good on the resume or to focus exclusively on their studies without the time and distraction of employment.
Maybe what I’m describing is the same as what others here are describing as “stress.”
This is an interesting historical point, but it doesn’t quite fit the data and question I am asking: why does achievement at each grade level, not just in terms of college-readiness, correlate so tightly with SES? No doubt college-readiness can be explained this way. In fact, the degree attained by parents is also a good predictor of achievement. But that doesn’t explain the SAT graph or the PSSA graph.
Great post Grant, I will have to read over and over again and look at your citations. Thanks for the provocation(s). Just read the following from Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners from the University of Chicago Consortium: “. . . the lowest-achieving students entering high school in Chicago(those with eighth-grade test scores in the lowest national quartile) who had less than a week of absences per semester passed more of their ninth grade courses than students who entered high school with test scores in the top quartile but missed just one more week of class.” (Allensworth & Easton, 2007). On another point, after a discussion of a student who does nothing and is now turning in work because a staff member is working with him one hour a day one on one, I have harkened back to Bloom’s @ Sigma Effect. Thanks again for your intensity.
Good to hear from you, Greg! The absences thing is clearly important at the lower end; I wonder if the absence rates correlate with SES and achievement in more upper-middle-class schools? I’ll keep my intensity if you’ll keep the faith!
When looking at absence consider the rotating part of it where the teacher never has the same group of kids in the same class period in high absence schools. What is the difference in chronic absenteeism between high and low poverty schools? Many rotating vs few chronically absent? https://getschooled.com/system/assets/assets/152/original/FINALChronicAbsenteeismReport_May16_executivesummary_withcover_20_1_.pdf?1337209810
Let’s not forget how critically important the first five years of life are to neural synapse formations. The work by Hart and Risley (Meaningful differences) ties nicely to the early home environment impacts.
Indeed. But that still doesn’t explain why parental income all along the graph is the predictor. Again, we can all see why poverty vs wealth would predict health, words spoken in the home, quality of discourse, IQ, etc. But it seems a stretch to say that all along the SES continuum it makes sense. Unless they wish to claim that the more money people have the better parents they are (which seems unlikely) i.e. the better the kids are being raised intellectually. Because striving middle-class families would seem to be just as skilled and eager to do the right things as the well-off.
You make good points. It’s perplexing.
Something to consider but hard to quantify. Is it possible that there’s a hierarchy of effects as you move through SES levels. It may be more of a question of not just “skilled and eager to do the right things as the well-off” but what the differences in what is actually done are as enabled by differences in disposable income. Obviously this is a bit of a stretch since it seems that it would not be as smoothly linear as it looks, but perhaps the sample size smooths this out. Here’s my thoughts on what some of the differences are as posted in a reply above.
“It’s far more complex than just the question of tutors, the higher the SES the more varied (and inaccessible to lower SES) the informal out of school enrichment is. Travel to different cultures / parental homelands, variety and length of vacations, all sorts of context shifting things that require the rapid adoption of different frames of reference. For starters.”
Based on the components in the discussions here and having done some reading on “Big Data”, it seems to me that the quantity, quality and detail of information needed to answer questions like this are out of reach unless someone like Bill Gates develops an interest in answering the question in the absence of ideological and financial predispositions.
You ask “how does this make sense to you as an educator?” It doesn’t. It might in the truly low range of SES, but I’m befuddled by why the correlation continues so perfectly in the higher income ranges.
I’m not a statistician or an educational historian, but I wonder what the corresponding graph looks like in Finland. In Anu Partanen’s article in The Atlantic last year regarding Finland’s academic success, she states that Finland’s educational reform focused on equity, not excellence. Teachers are paid well, respected, and take their responsibilities seriously. Students are treated first and last as learners. As Maslow’s hierarchy teaches, one can’t learn, can’t self-actualize, until his or her basic needs are met. As her article describes, “Finland offers all pupils free school meals, easy access to health care, psychological counseling, and individualized student guidance.”
Certainly, each country is unique from one another, but there may be lessons to be learned from across the pond.
Grant: you may be interested to know that the Norman (Oklahoma) School District is implementing Marzano’s evaluation system, and we’re ALL being taught the strategies you and he recommend, such as scales, posting goals, etc. It’ll be interesting to see what effect this has on our numbers. Too early to tell if it’s having much effect in my classroom–will let you know how it goes.
Great! I’ll be interested to hear how things go.
I am a math teacher and have worked in several different types of schools – urban, suburban, and rural. In general (not considering outliers), in my opinion it eventually comes down to genetics and IQ. I realize that this is not the “politically correct” thing to say, but we should stop ignoring it. I witnessed a great decline in proficiency and behavior when, for example, Algebra 1 was deemed a requirement for all freshmen. No more business math, or general math, etc. We have to face facts: some kids will never gain mastery in this subject or above. Chalk it up to interest or IQ, it’s not going to happen. I have been hitting a brick wall for years, attempting to teach kids Algebra and Geometry, when those same kids cannot even READ the directions. It’s heart-breaking to look into a student’s eyes and realize that I am speaking a foreign language that they will never master. But why are the powers that be so sensitive about this? I never really excelled in language arts. I turned out okay. Interest in that came later. I cannot sing my way out of a wet paper bag, although some students are blessed with a beautiful voice. My point is this: as long as we continue to force-feed subjects where there is no interest or innate intellectual connection, we will continue to see this trend. How about researching skills in the low income that are not present in high income? These things exist, just not falling in the math or language arts categories on assessments.
In dealing with infertility I learned a lot about how the environment the gametes mature in affects their quality. If the mother is not well nourished and has a large environmental load of toxins and unnatural substances in it, especially in the 120 days it takes for the egg to mature, it isnt going to be as high quality. For males as well, environmental factors (toxins, meds, diet, nutrition, health) affect the quality of sperm. This is even before we get to conception.
Friends adopted a newborn baby, born in Vegas at it happens. The parents are extremely well-edicated, patient, well-resourced and this child has big behavioral issues.
There is a Scottish proverb that says something along the lines that if only perfect people had children the world would be “ill-peopled”. I’m not into eugenics but maybe we need to take reproduction, parenting and health more seriously, if we really want to see all people to succeed. Even still, it seems like something out of a Handmaid’s Tale.
I can’t cite the source, but recall reading back in the 70s that a student’s feeling of control over her or his learning situation is more highly correlated with achievement than any other factor.
Apologies for the off the cuff poor construction, but aren’t you talking about/seeing at a too small a scale the (pseudo?) evolutionary pressures imposed by the short term characteristics of modern technological society? The multiple intelligence types you allude to came from somewhere, having survived for as long as they did, but now the requirements of survival/specialization are quite different and changing far more rapidly than “traditional” evolution can keep up with. As broad and accommodating as modern education might try to be on it’s best days, I suspect it is still narrowed by the general goals and values of the times we live in despite their fragmented appearance. Then there’s the whole question of Epigenetics on top of all that….But to come back to earth, perhaps we live in a time where what are seen as the outliers of intelligence types are being deselected by an unnatural/arbitrarily changing set of conformative pressures? Could this be the difference between the data that is captured and understood and that which is captured and yet remains aloof (uncategorized/unapportioned)? In this context, could value added be merely a zygote that eventually might become something more useful, value described? If it doesn’t self abort (cancerous growth rate – non viable) in the context of it’s intended use? Sorry to distract from your more focused discussions.
I tend to look at things from a skewed perspective,so bear with me for a moment. Achievement in most (all?) of the studies reported is based on the score on an achievement test. These are typically made up primarily of multiple choice items with a possibility of some small number of extended answer questions. At each level tested, items are selected both to sample expected content and to spread responses across a bell curve. My experience suggests this is a poor way to measure true achievement which includes problem solving capabilities, persistence, and a number of other factors in addition to the content knowledge measured by the typical achievement test.
Could the SES correlation you describe be attributed to the way we measure achievement? That is, could the way we design items and complete tests be biased in a continuum across SES levels?
As I suggested in the last two theories, I am in agreement with you (and will spell this out shortly and a follow-up post). Knowing how tests are constructed to smooth out the curve, and seeing how many items really measure IQ rather than value-added achievement/proficiency, I think the way we measure skews our view of its meaning. If you read McClelland’s seminal paper from 1970 (a link exists in the article) you’ll see how he thinks this works.
Standardized tests ‘work’ because of metrics associated with verbal abilities. Those who learn the standardized language early, and expand their vocabulary the most, will “perform better” on tests. Children first learn language at home, and across the span of generations the working and non-working poor continue to “produce” “under-performing” children. There are exceptions, but exceptions should not be relied upon as predictors of what someone can do by pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps.
How about peers and community? Since schools are very economically segregated, schools are likely to consist of kids whose parents are similar in how academically oriented their culture is. One school has the kids of home healthcare workers, another the kids of middle management, another the kids of attorneys. These are factors that go beyond individual parenting. A school with a larger and popular group of math nerds will pull more kids into math. A community with low access to books will have less of a reading culture among its kids. In my own life, i was an avid reader as a child but getting into a group of kids in high school whose parents were more educated than mine pulled me into being a full intellectual. My teachers varied in quality, and i probably learned more on my own than from them. I had raw intellect, but my peer culture was what led it to blossom.
I’m curious why you so quickly dismiss the possibility that income differences shouldn’t matter much at the middle-upper ranges? Upper income parents can provide extensive learning opportunities that middle-class parents can’t: dedicated tutors, a full slate of summer camps, etc. Moreover, they can ensure their kids attend the “best” schools – schools with other high-achieving students.
Your assertion that “money spent on improved schooling has not shown to be a driver in changing the curve” does not seem to be supported by the link you provide or subsequent research on the question. Specifically, the “study found that expenditures can affect the achievement of fourth graders in two steps and of eighth graders in three steps.” (it also found that there are, not surprisingly, better and worse ways to spend the money). A more recent study at http://www.shankerinstitute.org/images/doesmoneymatter_final.pdf finds much the same answer.
Thanks for this study. But while I accept the general proposition that schools in general will do well if properly funded than not (if the funds are used well), the study doesn’t quite address the issue as I raised it: there is little evidence that giving additional funding to bad schools improves them muc. Indeed, the recent RttT report underscores the challenge: not much to show. And my personal experience in Trenton and Newark is negative, where they and most other Abbott districts simply have not become better though significant amounts of cash have gone into them.
Perhaps I’m misunderstanding your point, but this study and the one you referred to did look at low income schools and they did see improvement from additional funding (when used right). Regarding the Abbott district schools, research shows there was improvement – refer to http://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/2027.42/61592/1/aresch_1.pdf. Besides, this is one example and there’s no denying that money can be poorly spent. That doesn’t show that money is not a _necessary_ precondition for effective reform.
There is likely an upper limit to what more money can do when it is only spent “in school”. Spending more money on combating the external factors that impair what can be achieved in the schools has received too little attention even though some charter schools have attempted to do that. As I said above, “Focusing on teacher quality/in school factors alone is not the answer. Concerning student outcomes, In school influences account for about 20% of which 1/2 is attributable to teacher effects. 60% is attributable to out of school factors and the remaining 20% is noise, meaning things not measured or not seen. Ignoring out of school factors in low performing schools turns a blind eye to the actual source of the problems affecting in school performance. Expecting schools to compensate for that is completely unrealistic and using schools as a portal for efforts that do is problematic. To echo Jeri Hammond above: ” I am a huge proponent of early childhood programs that “reparent the parent” – how do we break the cycle?””
Surely no one can deny that spending money wisely can improve schools. Just because research has not formulated a proper way to assess this does not make the opposite true. A general correlational study does not make it possible to conclude we should not think $$ makes a difference. We must strive to look deeper. One example for those who are skeptical- books. Would someone really argue that if we had more books that would not help education? But how do you measure that? This is a complex issue. One cannot refuse to increase funding because we haven’t been able to capture the essence of how it is improved – or maybe agree on how it has improved.
Someone should do a study on the contradictory education phenomena. As an example, having similar pacing, common assessments, etc across a large district with free and reduced numbers anywhere from 10% to 50%+. And then, in the same mouthful, ask teachers to use “formative assessment and feedback.” Yeah, so, uh, I teach at the one with 50%+ and I noticed, I think, that my students struggle in certain areas based on exit tickets, quizzes, standardized test results, common assessments, etc. But, uh, I can’t reteach or review concepts necessary for the upcoming unit because then I’d be off pace and get in trouble for not giving the assessment “on time.” You know, because everything I do every day is prescribed on a district outline. Some people think I’m being sarcastic/jerkish when I ask, “how do we use formative assessment if we can’t slow the pacing down?” When, in all honesty, that’s how contradictory it is and, in actuality, I really don’t know and would like to know. Because, when compared to the school with 10%, I’m sure I wouldn’t have more gaps to fill, as well as the intended curriculum, with my students. No, of course not! It’s called, “use research but not when it make sense in real life because that’s not what we do around here!”
Your point is well taken. That’s why a cardinal element in the approach to curriculum writing that we propose in Schooling by Design is that the curriculum must build in explicit flex and unscheduled days to ensure that there is time to react to useful formative feedback. or, at the very least, the curriculum writers in a district should be required to identify negotiable vs. non-negotiable lessons and units. Denver does this in social studies: they identify the required vs. modifiable units. In a major curriculum writing project that we are about to undertake for a large county system, we will be showing how to do this. I’ll report on this later in the year when the curriculum and its guidance has taken more shape.
Great to know I’m not completely crazy!
Slipping “adapt and overcome” in under the door in a time of data driven standardization. SWEET!
Does this link relate at all?
Have you considered the difference between the PTSD-like stress, that children from a poor or highly mobile family living in a poor neighborhood experience, and the perseverance-promoting stress that the upper middle class children experience? As a teacher I see very different reactions to the type of stress.
I would also suggest considering the expectations the students hold for what school work should be. Students who treat school like a salaried job work very differently from students who treat work like an hourly job. Do these expectations come from family members or from cumulative years of schooling?
Some students treat school work as a puzzle to be solved, and some treat it as something to be endured. Is there something in here that informs your work?
Overall I enjoyed this post and thank you for really looking at this question.
Great point, very relevant to the issue.
How do we deal with children that attend the first day of kindergarten and are already 2-3 years behind in verbal skills? Many years ago I had students that spoke like Porky Pig because that’s what they watched on TV. When we were talking about autumn colors and walking outside, one child pointed to a traffic light and asked if it was a tree, because it had red, yellow, and green. Today I look at my grandchildrens’ ipads and the educational software and I am not at all surprised by the correlation between SES and achievement. Perhaps if we invested in birth-kindergarten education we would have a well-educated students who could communicate, think critically, and creatively.
Another factor is the stickiness of SES, that there is actually far less mobility than we want to believe across all levels. http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/papers/2007/5/useconomics%20morton/05useconomics_morton.pdf
I don’t have full access to the articles in this link, but it seems to address the issue as well. http://pps.sagepub.com/content/6/1/9
This is an article on how this is discussed as policy, not so relevant to the discussion here except for things like this snip –
“The short answer, then, to whether or not poverty is destiny in the United States is “yes.” In fact, all categories of socioeconomic status in the United States are primarily static. In other words, the majority of people in the United States remain in the social class of their birth.
Poverty is destiny, and affluence is destiny in the United States. And these facts have almost nothing to do with the effort of anyone in those categories.
This is the statistical norm in the United States: Each of us is destined to the class of our parents. Those who are socially mobile upward are outliers, and to promote social policy based on the claim that “poverty is not destiny” is to make an ideological claim that has no basis in evidence. And worse, it makes an unwarranted implication that normal outcomes are somehow the result of inherent flaws in the majority of people who live their lives in the class into which they were born.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/is-poverty-destiny-ideology-vs-evidence-in-school-reform/2012/09/18/cf121d2e-0201-11e2-b257-e1c2b3548a4a_blog.html?wprss=rss_answer-sheet
Very true — although there are even exceptions here (some fall, some fly), most of us hover very near the SES of those who raised us.
It’s hard to sit in front of a 2 year old and tell them they are destined to live in their rat-infested slum for the rest of their life. We need to stop worrying about mobility as a reason for education. That is not why we educate our nation. We educate to give opportunity for sure. However, we need to make sure we have literate citizens for work, govt reasons, social reasons, and economic reasons. For this reason, I think that the process of education – which reflects our society and daily life- should be the hallmark of education- not the objective measure of outcome.
I agree on the mobility as not a reason part, and I seriously doubt anyone posting comments here would ever think of saying that to anyone, let alone a two year old. The point is that, in spite of our desires and beliefs to the contrary, this seems to be how it is. (Not the rat infested slum part, that is a different issue easily solved if the will exists among those in a position to do so.) Please note that the discussion here is focused on trying to figure out the “why”, what the mechanisms are and what can be done to defeat them so that we can create a better truth and make the existing one obsolete. A focus on education alone will not be at all sufficient. It is not a holistic approach and so will inevitably ignore other significant factors. I tried to post this above but apparently failed. It shows one place, one factor that I think must be examined if we are to understand the whole. The study of Epigenetics is still in it’s infancy, but is quite relevant. The article is not anti-Darwin, but takes up where he unknowingly left off. http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/mar/19/evolution-darwin-natural-selection-genes-wrong
I intended sarcasm in that comment about the 2 year old. I agree we need a holistic approach- thus the reason for my response. You have given a narrow response- one that deals with mobility only. Here you also add that you think somehow this proves Darwin was wrong? How you go from interpretation of research on education to a suggestion that epigenetics is the new frontier and Darwin is wrong is beyond me. What is your point here?
Not that Darwin was wrong, but that he uncovered only a part of the truth about evolution. That’s the point I made above. The point of the mobility articles is to debunk the myth that people can advance their social class by education alone. Or by any single effort alone.
What if anything all this may have to do with genetics is beyond me at the moment, especially since one must also now consider Epigenetic factors as well. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1952313,00.html plus http://www.nature.com/nature/supplements/insights/epigenetics/index.html
The closer you look, the more (hopelessly?) complex it gets. The ideal way forward would seem to be to destroy profit/ideological driven data collection and use and use “truth acquisition” driven data analysis to inform and improve human institutional knowledge which is where the actual work of teaching occurs. If we can exclude the corrosive and corrupting influence of the short term profit motive we might actually learn something useful. The only way the hyper wealthy should be allowed to participate in this is by true philanthropy, by putting their ideologies aside and letting the chips fall where they may. Carnegie built libraries but did not stipulate what books would be in them. The level of noise introduced by the profit/ideological push is entirely counter productive.
Climbing down from my soap box…….
One last on Epigenetics. http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/mar/19/evolution-darwin-natural-selection-genes-wrong
Jupiter mom, Darwin was not wrong as much as he was just not in possession of the whole truth. Please read the entire article and don’t be fooled by the title. Epigenetics is not THE new frontier, it is A new frontier that we are seeking to integrate into what we already know as a way to check our assumptions, correct our mistakes and expand our knowledge and understanding.
You are still discussing in a very generalized, philosophical manner. What is your point with this? And I am not asking “what is the point of the article”. I’m asking what you are trying to say as it applies to SES and education.
The point I’m trying to make is that the article(s) points to the fact that as yet, we are not able to ask all the right questions on SES and genetics. There are things we do not yet see or understand. We can still proceed forward on what we do know though. Sorry, gotta run!
I’ve been following this thread with interest. As it would happen I have learned annectdotally a couple of things that might play into the high SES elevated achievement.
One wealthy family has their kids take IQ tests annually: so the kids get used to taking them, so they get better at taking them, and do the mom has annual benchmarks on how they are doing. Her kids attend private schools in Seattle.
Another woman I know provides math tutoring to wealthier families. SAT prep on an individualized basis and beyond. She felt that absolutely was skewing the test results.
I just thought I would share. It would be interesting to study what the families of high-achieving students do at all SES.
This is a possible explanation that I alluded to in an earlier post on this topic. It seems someone took a closer look at it.
“But rising income inequality explains, at best, half of the increase in the rich-poor academic achievement gap. It’s not just that the rich have more money than they used to, it’s that they are using it differently. This is where things get really interesting.
High-income families are increasingly focusing their resources — their money, time and knowledge of what it takes to be successful in school — on their children’s cognitive development and educational success. They are doing this because educational success is much more important than it used to be, even for the rich.
With a college degree insufficient to ensure a high-income job, or even a job as a barista, parents are now investing more time and money in their children’s cognitive development from the earliest ages. It may seem self-evident that parents with more resources are able to invest more — more of both money and of what Mr. Putnam calls “‘Goodnight Moon’ time” — in their children’s development. But even though middle-class and poor families are also increasing the time and money they invest in their children, they are not doing so as quickly or as deeply as the rich.”
I saw that post and added it to the bottom because I thought it offered an interesting point of view. It doesn’t quite work for me, though. That last line is a clunker of idle speculation. Since when have slightly-less-than wealthy people not cared as much as wealthy about bringing up their kids properly? Arguably middle class people care more than most. It also fails to explain why wealthy people suddenly got smarter and more concerned in bringing up baby – not credible to me. (I taught in prep school 40 years ago and they cared plenty). It also fails to explain the SAT data that somehow just increasing wealth increases SAT scores across the range of wealth.
The SAT data does not say “increasing wealth increases SAT scores”. It says that those with more wealth, on average, have higher SAT scores – researchers aren’t handing out $ to families to see if that increases their SAT scores.
Why is this surprising, anyway? More wealth being associated with higher SAT is equivalent to higher SAT being associated with more wealth. If one group has a higher average SAT score than another, and that is all you know about them, wouldn’t you expect that group to end up with a higher average income?
I agree that Reardon offers an interesting take on the topic, but for me the focus on tutoring / education outcome improvement activities happened at the expense of other factors that he took note of but in my opinion, failed to to examine sufficiently, although it’s easy to argue that doing a lot more of that would have been beyond the scope of the article. His other focus on early childhood interventions also seemed to exclude sufficient mention of additional factors. I must give him a pass on that since early childhood intervention is sorely lacking at the bottom of the income scale and that really needs to be one of the first things to change. It was his main point after all.
So, I’m going to take the very real risk of going Wiley Coyote here and based on some assumptions, formulate some questions that might point to answers. The smallest kitchen sink possible will also get thrown in. I’ll start with this bit from his article:
“These widening disparities are not confined to academic outcomes: new research by the Harvard political scientist Robert D. Putnam and his colleagues shows that the rich-poor gaps in student participation in sports, extracurricular activities, volunteer work and church attendance have grown sharply as well.”
I myself continue to assume that there is a big difference between the effects of extra academic tutoring and non academic life experiences on creativity and critical thinking leading to a deeper, wider and richer context within which academic experience can be understood and processed. I also assume based on my own anecdotal information that the richer the family, the more varied the life experiences are. For a personal example, the effects of two widely separated years living and studying abroad upon me were quite profound and resulted each time in a permanent change in my understanding of very many things. One year was in grade school, the other college. The idea of a life changing experience is hardly unknown! Now for some questions.
What are the non academic experiences/activities that enhance the neurological and intellectual capability to do better in school and life, and how do they do it?
What is the distribution of these by income group?
What is the distribution of perishable vs hard written capabilities that these experiences/activities produce, like the difference between learning to ride a bike, where something just “clicks” and you will never forget how even if you do get rusty at it, vs use it or lose it skills where continual practice is needed to maintain any level of proficiency?
Is there a continuum within these activities/experiences effects or are there thresholds and handoff’s between what may turn out to be different effects on the brain?
What are the classes of the effects? As I previously alluded to, some experiences are far more context shifting than others and require rapid adaption and adjustment to a new environment. How does this play into problem identification and solving? To acquiring an understanding of a new set of rules? What crossover and editing/revision might there be on other pre-existing modes of operation?
To what degree are all of the above (and more?) present in the early childhood and ongoing experiences of children in each of the income groups?
How do the negative neurological and psychological effects of poverty affect all of the above?
There’s also the question of good vs. bad stress. http://www.howtolearn.com/2011/09/good-stress-vs-bad-stress-how-stress-affects-the-mind
That’s enough for now. In a previous comment, I mentioned the emerging science of Epigenetics which pertains to how genes are switched on and off by environmental factors. I can’t help but imagine that this plays a significant part in all this. Too little is known about Epigenetics at this point to do more than pique our curiosity and cause us to make some enticing but preliminary assumptions based on what has been discovered to date. As I guess you’ve already noticed, my questions seek answers from statistics, behavioral science and Epigenetics and as such are also assumptions about the territory where the answers might be found if the questions are in fact useful.
Thanks for a great blog, and to all for their thoughts on this.
tl;dr. But here’s your answer, it’s not odd at all:
1 – SES differences from birth to age 9 can easily explain much of the effect. The impact of SES on readiness for kindergarten, and on learning to read well, will determine a lot of the future trajectory.
2 – There are other correlations of SES that explain the rest, such as:
a) education level of parents
b) likelihood of being speakers of other languages
3 – The data set isn’t fine enough. You’d need a large sample with breaks in the data above $200,000 to start to see the effect leveling out.
Think about the impact of income variation over that range in the critical 0 – 9 years, and what it means for the parental focus (1 job, 2 jobs, or more?); resources (sitters, experiences); and so on.
I second the remarks of Downtown Schools: what this doesn’t really take into account is how badly basically everyone below a rather high income is treated in the American politicoeconomic system. Compare forexample the availability of parental leave, child care, and the average weeks of vacation time in most of the rest of the OECD compared with the US, as well as the blatant divergence of productivity and wages that began in the ’70s and has widened steadily in subsequent decades. The pressures on the poorest don’t disappear as income rises, they just attenuate. $200,000 seems about right for things to start leveling off. In short, valid as your questions are, the data have a serious lack of range to fully address the problem.
Also, on this:
“Why would someone whose parents make $80,000 dollars per year in general have higher SAT scores than someone whose parents make $60,000 dollars per year?”
You need to really re-think your point of view.
– That’s a huge difference, and has an big effect on the resources available to a family.
– And it’s still well below the level at which you’d expect the effect of increasing income to taper off. The ability to take time off / leave a career when children are young; hire child care; pay for preschool; provide experiences; etc – all that varies dramatically up to $200K.
“Meanwhile, do you have a theory or combination of the 10 factors for a sensible and thorough explanation for the correlation of parental income and achievement?”
yes, inheritance of iq
Don’t the various studies of identical twins reared apart pretty much show that shared environment makes no difference on IQ and educational achievement? Apparently IQ is 60% genetic and 40% other factors (mainly just luck and measurement error). There is virtually no evidence that parenting skills and resources make any difference what so ever.
Also consider that when you have higher ses you associate with similar people. Your kids gain from these connections such as job possibilities and options and ideas as well as learning more of what is available to them because more successful people have more options.
For instance my parents were of low ses and not once was I given an education on jobs or what to persue in life, they never went to college and had no clue how to prepare me in choosing a field or school. In fact they were not happy about the prospect of me learning about evolution (they refuse to accept most science to this day). My senior year of high school it suddenly struck me that I needed to find a career…something I struggle with to this day as I’ve not found anything I’m good at and my parents total failure at preparing me for this task lingers. In the “old days” biys were taught the “family business” and prepared to make their place in society. Mine had no such careers and actually did all they could to keep me seperate from “the world” (highly religious, very sheltering, and ignorant). I was even dissuaded from dating and finally had my first girlfriend in my mid 20’s, though I did try earlier. And they wonder why I can’t “make it” and fail at EVERYTHING I do…even being aware of this doesn’t help.
Had they been of higher ses their education and acceptance of social norms would have helped me succeed.
There really are a ton of good points here on why SES and student achievement might have a correlation. I believe it’s a variety though of multiple factors that add to this correlation, because more often than not any one problem doesn’t have just one solution. One I feel was nearly brushed on but kind of missed, was that based on how much parents make generally says A) How much time they have to spend on their children, B) How much knowledge they have on particular subjects (due to the amount of education they would have to have gone through to get to the dollar amount they’re at) and C) if they make a lot of money but don’t have as much time, being able to afford resources such as tutors for their children to continue doing well in school. I also think that usually parents at higher incomes have jobs that required more schooling and for that reason they often push their children to follow in their footsteps and do better. This may not necessarily be completely true though, I’d have to look into it with research and all. That’s my take on this anyway.