The rich get richer — and smarter

Rich kids are widening the achievement gap, leaving middle class kids, not just the poor, farther behind, writes Sean Reardon, a Stanford education and sociology professor.

High-income families are increasingly focusing their resources — their money, time and knowledge of what it takes to be successful in school — on their children’s cognitive development and educational success. They are doing this because educational success is much more important than it used to be, even for the rich.

Is it intensive parenting? asks Megan McArdle in The Daily Beast.  All the people who are really good at school are marrying the other people who are really good at school (and) having children who are really, really good at school.

The rich pulling away from the middle class is also exactly what we would see if test-taking ability has a substantial inherited component, and the American economy is increasingly selecting for people who are very, very good at taking tests.

A fan of the Little House on the Prairie books, McArdle recently reread Those Happy Golden Years in which Laura Ingalls meets and marries Almanzo Wilder. While Laura liked school and was good at it, ”

Almanzo hated it” and quit as soon as he could. “

There’s no evidence that he reads or otherwise occupies himself with intellectual pursuits in his spare time.”

Apparently, it was a very happy marriage. Today . . .

Laura Ingalls would quite likely have gone to an elite school, and probably graduate school, then moved to a coastal city, and eventually married another bookworm.  Almanzo Wilder would be married to someone like him, a hard worker who nonetheless found school tedious and left as quickly as possible.  And when their two sets of children showed up at school, their test scores would be very different.

The educational barrier to high-paying professions tie income even more tightly to educational proficiency, she writes.

Maybe the answer is not a quixotic attempt to somehow replicate the experience of being raised by two professionals with advanced degrees. Maybe it’s to question the great educational sorting, and the barriers it has erected.

. . . every additional year of schooling we require makes it harder and harder for those who don’t enjoy school to compete in the wider world.

More women than men are going to college and earning degrees. There will be more Lauras marrying Almanzos in the future.

Movin’ on up

Eighty-four percent of Americans — and 93 percent of those in the bottom quintile — earn more than their parents in inflation-adjusted dollars, concludes a new Pew report, Pursuing the American Dream: Economic Mobility Across Generations.

Yet 43 percent of people who start in the bottom quintile end up there, notes Education Gadfly. Nearly three-quarters remain in the bottom 40 percent.

A black-white mobility achievement gap is present as well: Half of blacks who were raised on the wealth ladder’s bottom rung stay there as adults, compared to a third of whites. The “stickiness at the ends” phenomenon affects America’s wealthiest as well: Sixty-six percent of those with parents in the top quintile stayed among the elite (earning at least $164,000 a year). As Pew explains (and Charles Murray concurs), this “stickiness” is partially caused by marriage patterns. High earners are forming unions with others in their quintile, further bumping their family wealth and income.

For those raised at the bottom of the family income ladder, college provides a way up: Only 10 percent of college graduates — and 47 percent of those without a degree — end up at the bottom rung.

Poor learn more in low-poverty schools

Poor children learn more when they go to school with middle-class children, writes Daniela Fairchild on Education Gadfly. She cites a Century Foundation study that looks at Montgomery County, Maryland.

For forty years, this affluent Washington suburb has required developers of new subdivisions or condominiums to set-aside units for low-income residents, creating opportunities for poor children to live—and go to neighborhood schools—with more affluent agemates. What’s more, families who apply to these housing units are randomly selected, creating perfect conditions for rigorous social science.

The study tracked 858 low-income-elementary students in mixed housing units from 2001 to 2007.   Students attending low-poverty schools (less than 20 percent of students eligible for subsidized lunch) made significant gains, cutting the math achievement gap by half and the reading gap by a third.  However, gains faded in schools where more than 35 percent of students qualified for a subsidized lunch and “all but vanished from schools with 60 percent or more low-income students, notwithstanding that the school system spent significantly more money in those high-need schools.”

“Coleman was right: peers matter, and money doesn’t,” concludes Fairchild.