Diploma gap widens between rich, poor

Fifty-four percent of high-income students and 9 percent of low-income students complete a college degree, concludes a new study. The diploma gap has widened in 20 years, primarily because the daughters of affluent families are doing very, very well in school.

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  1. Linda Seebach says:

    Unless there’s some way to take into account individual students’ ability, this is a meaningless statistic. No one should be surprised that there is a gap, but is it bigger or smaller than would be predicted by controlling for IQ (which is correlated with income, parents’ education, and other possibly relevant variables).

    • “other possibly relevant variables”?

      I don’t like the focus on some sort of relative gap of learning as if that’s the only problem. There are two variables here; absolute level of learning and relative gap.

      There are much bigger problems that affect the absolute level of learning for all kids. Affluent parents send their kids to other schools, but urban kids rarely get that chance. Affluent parents help kids at home or with tutors on an absolute level. There are schools that set higher expectations and use better curricula. One might argue that if all students were taught to the best of their abilities, the gap might increase, but the absolute level would be so much higher … which would lower the percent gap to the point where it would be virtually meaningless. Besides, individuals matter, not relative statistics. Solutions have to be individual-based, not statistics-based. Affluent parents solve individual problems, but urban parents only get statistics. That’s a huge absolute gap variable.

      An IQ argument might be meaningful on a relative basis, but it is only relative and it distracts people from so many other more-than-possibly absolute variables.

      • Florida resident says:

        Dear SteveH:
        Can you kindly comment on the statements
        of Dr. Charles Murray’s book “Real Education”,
        ($1.99 +$3.99 S&H or $11.99 on Kindle.)
        Your F.r.

        • In a short post, I can comment only on the main ideas.

          “Ability Varies”

          Yup. Nobody argues with that.

          “Half the children are below average.”

          Yup again, but what, exactly, is the average? Many like to use this to ingore all sorts of variables or claim that IQ is the dominant variable. We’re not talking about whether kids can get to a course in differential equations . The lower the expectations, the more the upper end of the bell curve will be truncated; the more it will be influenced by high expectations and proper curricula. As expectations get lower and lower, why would anyone expect to see a full bell curve?

          “Too many people are going to college.”

          I generally agree, but who should decide that, the powers that be or the individual? Is public policy supposed to decide that? I’ve complained about how “College Prep” was the highest level in my high school, but it’s now (about) the lowest level in my son’s high school. I don’t think college should be that important, but it has become a supply and demand issue, not a policy issue. But, perhaps you could have a policy (and money) to subsidize companies that train high school graduates rather than wait for them to get a college degree (of unknown value) and causing them to go deep into debt. That should be better for the employer AND the employee. It would also put a college degree into better perspective. Then again, a well-respected vocational school in our area gives out associates and bachelor’s degrees. There is little difference now between vocational and college degrees, so the issue of too many kids going to college is not that clear cut.

          “America’s future depends on how we educate the academically gifted.”

          Baloney. With all of the money put into education, who would think that it’s a zero-sum game? My son was not getting a poor education in K-6 because of a lack of money or some sort of missing public policy. The education was bad because it was low expectation fun-time learning. This is not based on a romantic vision of how all kids are equal. K-8 educators just think that they can deal with it using differentiated instruction.

          It’s quite incredible. They increase the range of ability in one classroom, but think they have some magic technique that allows all kids to move along at their own level. I’ve heard some strange examples about how kids at different levels can get “something” from a lecture. They have even referred to it as “differentiated learning”, thereby putting the complete onus on the student.

          If schools had an epiphany about separating students by level, they would not magically replace Everyday Math with Singapore Math. Even if they did use more rigorous math curricula and offered acceleration and not just enrichment, I would not trust them to place kids into the tracks properly. What should the policy be, to track kids based on IQ? Even if they ignore IQ, but just track based on results, it still doesn’t (necessarily) put any onus on schools and teachers to ensure that any particular level of learning is achieved. Affluent kids with help at home would have an advantage.

          When I was young, there were specific grade level expectations of skills and content. If you did not achieve those levels, then you were facing the threat of summer school or worse, being held back a year. It put pressure on the kids, the parents, and even the teachers to not let things slide along. Now, many K-6 schools like to put the entire onus on the student and assume that learning is some sort of natural IQ osmosis process where all that a teacher has to be is a guide on the side. As documented so many times by so many parents, we are at home helping our kids master basics like the times table. We are not teaching our kids algebra so they can be super students. This is simple stuff. Why should anyone expect to see a full bell curve?

          So how, exactly, would a bell curve policy work, or is it just some pipe dream about how things would change if only educators would accept some inconvenient truths? Would you calibrate a bell curve for each subject, taking into account the variation due to hard work and curriculum? Would you try to force states to have Gifted/TAG programs? How, exactly, would they work and how would you ensure that all individuals had an equal opportunity? How do you equalize help and pushing at home that some individuals get versus the statistical low expectation that many urban students get?

          “… asking too much from those at the bottom, asking the wrong things from those in the middle, and asking too little from those at the top.”

          This is uncalibrated, and the “wrong things” for the middle changes the subject. It is also a simplistic view of what is going on. Murray can’t take a general idea and then try to force all of reality to fit just to make it seem more important than it is. That’s Cargo Cult science.

          • Florida resident says:

            Reading of this thoughtful and detailed response by SteveH is acknowledged.
            I will need some time to digest it.
            With gratitude, your F.r.

          • Florida resident says:

            Dear StevH !
            I tend to agree with the author of this article:
            “Q. Is IQ really all that important in understanding how the world works?
            A. In an absolute sense, no. Human behavior is incredibly complicated, and no single factor explains more than a small fraction of it.
            In a relative sense, yes. Compared to all the countless other factors that influence the human world, IQ ranks up near the top of the list.”

            It means also that I agree with Linda Seebach, post above.
            Your F.r.

  2. I know not everyone is college material, but only 54 percent of higher-income students graduate from college? That should be addressed somehow. These parents should be fighting mad and doing something about the poor preparation their children receive in high school.

    • Mark Roulo says:

      For the purposes of the study, “high income” is topmost quartile.

      What percentage of kids from the top 25% of household incomes seems right for the parents to not be fighting mad?

      • J. D. Salinger says:

        Your point being what, exactly?

        • Mark Roulo says:

          My point being that I don’t think 100% is realistic. If Happy Elf Mom thinks 54% is unacceptably low, I’d like to know what number would be acceptable.

  3. Florida resident says:

    Dear Ms. Jacobs,
    I undrstand that the sentence
    “… daughters of affluent families are doing very, very well in school” is stylistically correct English.
    But using the verb “doing” somehow implies the thought that they are not “studying in honest”, but just “doing”, and the diplomas are just “coming” to them.
    Your F.r.

  4. “Affluent kids with help at home would have an advantage.”

    The solution is clear, then – no one should be allowed to get help at home, or from any source outside the schools. That should even the odds!

  5. Linda Seebach says:

    @ Florida resident:
    IQ is not the only significant factor in school achievement, but I believe it is the most systematically and deliberately ignored, for the best of motives — no one in public education can afford to acknowledge that the IQ gap between black and white students explains a lot about outcomes. (So does the IQ gap between white and East Asian students, but that is not taboo to the same extent.)

    It matters because a lot of the tomfoolery infesting public education is a response to the desperate political need to find ways to obscure the consequences of the racial IQ gap. It’s as if we remade all our sports programs to make sure girls and boys did equally well at them, despite the obvious fact that males are taller and stronger than females, on average.

    • Florida resident says:

      Thank you, dear Linda Seebach.
      Your F.r.

    • Calibrate this and explain, exactly, what public or school policies should be implemented to fix it. It’s too easy to hide behind a claim that nobody will fix it anyways.