Closing the ‘social-class achievement gap’

One hour of “difference education” can narrow first-generation college students’  “social-class achievement gap” significantly, according to a study.  First-year college students listened to a panel of older students discussing how they dealt with problems. If panelists talked about their family backgrounds, such as mentioning their parents couldn’t give them advice on college, the first-year students earned higher grades and felt more at home on campus.

About Joanne


  1. Michael E. Lopez says:

    This is the sort of thing that I’m VERY interested in — and about which I have some pretty strong opinions.

    I think it’s important to understand that it’s not just about academic background and support, though. It’s about entire modes of social being — things like the way people talk to each other, concepts of personal space, the role of insults in social interaction, saying what’s really on your mind, and the fact that your typical middle- or upper-class person has probably made it through their entire lives with at most a single schoolyard scrap, and that one a half-hearted exercise in testosterone rather than anything really violent.

    College can be really rough if you don’t know “the rules”.

  2. I think this is an issue, not only for minorities and urban students, but also for kids from poor rural and blue-collar communities. Things like doing reading assignments on the syllabus before class, asking for clarification of things not understood, keeping track of grades/how weighted, seeking out help (prof, tutor center) as soon as difficulties start, and the middle-class vocab and expectations. For instance, if the prof says “you might want to check out this article”, it needs to be understood as “you need to know everything in this article before the next test”. Even things like how to talk with faculty are new for many kids.

  3. That’s why I stopped assigning ungraded homework. At my institution we have a lot of first generation college students, and if the homework wasn’t worth something, they wouldn’t do it (even if I had a bonus problem on the exam taken from the homework). Meanwhile the students with middle class backgrounds, who probably didn’t need to do all the problems, did the homework and improved even more. Cultural assumptions are a huge topic that is so hard to discuss.

  4. These and related issues need to be addressed in HS: study skills, note-taking, no-retakes, no-accepting-late-work, no extra credit, no busywork, effort doesn’t count on grading etc – in addition to the other issues discussed here. . That was true at my small-town HS, not only for college prep but for secretarial and general students, because it’s how the real world works. Kids need explicit instruction and they need to take progressive responsibility for their own work, so they’re prepared for what comes after graduation; college or otherwise.

    • I agree. I come from a lower class background (I’m the only one in my immediate family with a degree) but it happens that I went to a middle-to-upper middle class district. I found parts of college too easy because we started getting rigorous in middle school. The middle school teachers expected us to read the night before and come to class prepared to discuss things. And they did something I’ll always be grateful for: They had high school seniors come and talk to us eighth graders about high school, and give us both academic advice and “what to expect” advice. In high school they had alumni give us advice about college (don’t slack off senior year just because you’ve been accepted), and “what to expect in college” advice. I saw how things were for kids in K-12 who transferred from lesser districts that left them ill-prepared for ours. One girl took pride in her C because she said it was worth more than the A she would have had at her previous school. Some kids had more trouble assimilating. I agree that a lot of this preparation should happen in K-12, but with so many schools like that girl’s it would help if college gave a “first in your family to go to college” orientation. Ignorance is expensive enough as it is.

      As it was, I had to rebel a little bit even with my father–who wanted me to go to college–because he didn’t accept that you have to pay for the ACT/SATs. I just used my own money and ignored him. I shudder to think of how things are for kids whose parents don’t even want them to go to school.

  5. Obi-Wandreas says:

    My 7th & 8th graders would benefit from this enormously. Many don’t know how to handle themselves in any situation. For others, if you only met them in class you would think they were the biggest geniuses on the planet, but if you only met them in the hallway you’d think they were the biggest morons in the universe. Their futures stand on the edge of a knife, and they desperately need a push in the right direction.

    • On road trips to away tournaments, my kids often talked about the school they would like to have and to run. One of the things they all mentioned was lunch with a teacher (different ones) at each table, with proper manners and conversation required. They specifically mentioned the desirability of kids learning how to interact with adults. This kind of instruction would be far better than the touchy-feely naval-gazing NESTperiod my younger kids’ MS inflicted on kids every day (as if MS kids aren’t already too focused on themselves).

  6. I think I’ll wait until the study’s verified by parties who don’t have a stake in proving the value of the idea before I get excited.