The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce has a report by Anthony P. Carnevale and colleagues titled Born to Win, Schooled to Lose Why Equally Talented Students Don’t Get Equal Chances to Be All They Can Be
- In America, it is often better to be rich than smart. Among the affluent, even a kindergartner with test scores in the bottom half has a 7 in 10 chance of reaching high SES among his or her peers as a young adult. But for similarly talented White, Black, Latino, and Asian children from low-SES families, the meager material supports available along the way to adulthood subvert nature’s generosity. Across racial and ethnic groups, a disadvantaged kindergartner with test scores in the top half has approximately a 3 in 10 chance of being high SES by the age of 25.
- Even at an early age, environmental disparities by class, race, and ethnicity are evident in measures of children’s achievement. Only about a quarter of lowest-SES kindergartners have top-half math scores, compared to around threequarters of highest-SES kindergartners. Children’s early scores also vary by race, in part because Black and Latino children are twice as likely as White children to come from lowest-SES families.
- As children progress through primary school, they can improve on measures of achievement, but their chances of improvement correlate to their class status. Becoming high achieving is less likely for low-SES kindergartners with bottom-half math scores. By the eighth grade, fewer than 1 in 5 lowest-SES kindergartners with bottom-half math scores will score in the top half, compared to more than 2 in 5 highest-SES kindergartners with bottomhalf math scores.
- A child from an advantaged class is more likely to maintain high scores than one from a poor family, and White and Asian children are more likely to do so than Black or Latino children. For low-SES students with top-half math scores, staying at the top throughout their academic journeys is difficult. In addition, Black and Latino students with top-half math scores in kindergarten are less likely than their White and Asian peers to persist in earning top scores.
- Achievement patterns are largely set by the time children enter high school. This is particularly evident for students with the lowest scores: students with bottom-quartile scores have difficulty improving their scores once they reach high school. Most tenth graders who score in the bottom math quartile will still score in the bottom quartile in twelfth grade.
- High school achievement sets the stage for college attainment—but family class plays an even greater role. The highest-SES students with bottom-half math scores are more likely to complete a college degree than the lowest-SES students with top-half math scores.
- Class mobility in America is limited—but education can be a lever for change. The lowest-SES tenth graders with top-half math scores are twice as likely to become high-SES (top-half) young adults as their peers with bottom-half math scores. Disadvantaged students who show promise can achieve, but their chances are better with interventions—and while lowest-SES tenth graders with bottom-half scores can become high SES, their chances are very slim.
Our findings suggest that families with high SES can provide their children with the material supports they need to maximize their chances at success in life. Meanwhile, disadvantaged families may be unable to provide the same environmental protections and enrichments—not because they don’t want the best for their children, but because systemic economic inequality bars their access to the social capital or material resources they need to give their children an advantage. In addition, the effects of racial segregation and discrimination continue to play out in children’s life chances.
In the face of these troubling dynamics, education can be the great equalizer—but only if we leverage its power to ensure equal access to the American Dream