Until recently, education was viewed as the societal leveler; education has the ability to change the trajectory of a family’s legacy from generational poverty to a much brighter future that means moving to the middle, and possibly, the upper class of society. School leaders and officials have struggled to close the achievement gap between minorities and Caucasian students. A recent article on The New York Times website explains that while “the achievement gap between white and black students has narrowed significantly over the past few decades, the gap between rich and poor students has grown substantially during the same period.” The researchers conclude that over the past few decades, the race of a student is less important than his or her family’s income level in determining that student’s achievement level in school. Additionally, this income imbalance is “the single most important predictor of success in the work force.”
So, what do wealthy parents do, specifically, to improve their children’s academic performance? According to the Times report,
“One reason for the growing gap in achievement, researchers say, could be that wealthy parents invest more time and money than ever before in their children (in weekend sports, ballet, music lessons, math tutors, and in overall involvement in their children’s schools), while lower-income families, which are now more likely than ever to be headed by a single parent, are increasingly stretched for time and resources. This has been particularly true as more parents try to position their children for college, which has become ever more essential for success in today’s economy.”
The income gap is just one factor in the achievement gap, according to a University of Chicago economist, James J. Heckman, “parenting matters as much as, if not more than, income in forming a child’s cognitive ability and personality, particularly in the years before children start school.” Another study shows that, on average, high-income children start school with about 400 hours more than poor children in literacy activities (“places other than their homes, their day care centers, or schools—anywhere from museums to shopping malls).”
These researchers believe that when the economy recovers, these problems will continue because wealthier parents tend to be better educated, so they know how to create a family culture that fosters better academic performance for their children than their low-income counterparts.