Why do rich kids do better in school than poor kids? Daniel Willingham provides two answers in an American Educator article.
First, wealthier parents can invest more in their children. They can afford “enrichment experiences in the summer, more books in the home, a tutor if one is needed, better access to health care, and so on.”
Wealthier parents are also likely to be higher in human capital–that is, they know more stuff. Wealthier parents speak more often to their children, and with a richer vocabulary, with more complex syntax, and in a way that elicits ideas from the child. Wealthier parents are also more likely to read to their children and to buy toys that teach letters and the names of shapes and colors.
Children who grow up in poverty are prey to “stress caused by crowding, by crime-ridden neighborhoods, by food uncertainty, and other factors.” Warm, supportive parents can counteract this, but stress may affect parents’ ability to raise their children well, Willingham writes. “Stress also leads directly to brain changes in children. Both of these factors lead to emotional and cognitive disadvantage for kids.”
What can teachers do? Teach academic knowledge and skills that kids won’t get at home, but also teach “how to interact with peers and adults, how to interact with large institutions like a school or a government agency, how to interact with authority figures, how to schedule one’s time, strategies to regulate one’s emotions and so on,” Willingham writes.
A “calm atmosphere” is important for kids who come from noisy, crowded and thratening neighborhoods and homes, he adds. “Kids in more chaotic classrooms show higher levels of stress hormones.”