Whoever believes that the “American Dream” is alive and well for everyone is simply incorrect. Though every adult strives for success and happiness, many childhoods come with unchangeable factors that hinder or strip future success. These inhibitors are systems of oppression.
In my experiences at the University (and in life in general) I’ve noticed that lower socioeconomic status is consistently and blatantly swept under the rug. It’s an oppressor that its victims hate talking about, but its consequences are cripplingly harsh.
Over the next few columns, I’ll be tackling some ways that socioeconomic status affects children. First, I’d like to discuss the effect of poverty on education. I choose education because it’s connected to a variety of benefits, including income, diversity in career choice and general happiness. The education gap between wealthy and impoverished children is significant. Students with parents in the bottom 50 percent of income ranges constitute only 14 percent of undergraduate students. That’s an enormous number, and it has already had a huge effect on every student’s daily life. Think about how this affects your own life. How many incredible people are missing from your college experience solely because they didn’t have financial advantages to help them gain admittance?
Discrimination based on class fundamentally affects children right from the start. When wealthier parents settle down, they’re able to choose cities and districts with thriving public education systems or send their children to private schools. Lower-SES parents are financially limited in terms of housing, often forced to settle in districts that can’t compete with the larger tax base and renowned public schools in more privileged towns.
Next we reach the college prep phases of high school: junior and senior year. Standardized tests like the ACT and SAT are strongly correlated with parents’ income level. Studies have found that each $20,000 increase in parental income is associated with 42.33 extra points on the SAT. That’s an estimated 378-point difference between parents with incomes less than $20,000 and more than $200,000. A few factors seem to cause this gap. The previously discussed educational differences in public schools have now been present at least since kindergarten, translating into discrepancies in different schools’ standardized testing scores. Additionally, SAT and ACT preparation programs are grossly expensive. Online study materials and courses can cost up to$600 and private tutoring ranges from $95 to $250 an hour. With lower-SES students unable to afford such programs, their ability to achieve high scores to gain admission into reputable colleges is hindered.
Plus, let’s not forget that affluent high schools offer more college preparatory AP classes that prove crucial for students to gain an upper hand for acceptance at elite colleges.
Even if lower-SES students have equivalent grades and scores, they’re still less likely to attend elite colleges. Only 50 percent of low-income valedictorians applied to one of the top 61 colleges — all private schools — as opposed to 80 percent of middle- and upper-class valedictorians. This difference comes from schools with lower-SES families being underfunded and consequentially decreasing one-on-one assistance from guidance counselors. These counselors are more likely to provide college information in a generalized format. Furthermore, these counselors rarely possess the knowledge to provide information on elite, distant schools. What’s worse is that lower-SES valedictorians would likely go to these better schools if they applied. Once these students were accepted to these schools, they received funding comparable or greater than local universities and were as likely to accept admission as the wealthier applicants. Therefore, a lack of resources is one reason why poor, yet academically successful students don’t apply to elite schools.
Let’s not forget that college tuition fees in America are substantially higher than the majority of the world. So if you’re a mediocre student getting accepted to colleges, you may have to turn them down unlike your intellectually-equal-yet-wealthier peers that also gain acceptance.
It’s a compilation of these factors and many more that help to explain the very drastic achievement gap, and what’s worse is that the oppression continues to cycle. It is well documented that college educated parents tend to make more money than uneducated parents. This means that children from low income environments tend to grow into impoverished adults that then raise poor children in an endless cycle.
And I’m throwing all of these statistics and dismaying realities so something is pounded in your head: we live in a country with serious problems, and we need to fix these problems. We must evaluate whether programs and policies like No Child Left Behind, Teach for America, Common Core and Race to the Top narrow the achievement gap for impoverished students, and if they don’t, we must continue to inquire and seek solutions until this gap is fixed.
Because those oppressed by this system don’t have the power to fix this on their own.
Michael Schramm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org