Editorial

It is better to be born rich than smart

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Courtesy of ThyBlackMan

Published 09/11/19 | Reading Time 5 mins 17 secs

Editorial | By Cormell Padillow, intern and contributing writer

A report released this year by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) titled “Born to Win, Schooled to Lose” tears down the lie that “if you work hard, you’ll succeed.” For many people, the idea of the American dream is failing.

Ask college students holding mountains of debt just to make a better life, or ask workers whose wages have stagnated since the early 1970s. The CEW confirms education is another area in which the poor and working-class are being screwed.

The report used Socioeconomic Status (SES) to categorize class. SES measures household income, parents’ educational attainment, and parents’ occupational prestige. It’s a way to measure advantages a family has not captured by income only, and it’s separated into four tiers: lowest, low, high, highest.

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Most of the people in the highest-SES aren’t rich. Only 67% of them make more than $75,000 a year. A teacher is an example of high SES because they have access to professional connections; it’s a respectable occupation, and they are usually highly educated. Even though they do not make much money, they still have the knowledge and the network to assist in their child’s education. Contrast that with a taxi driver who has fewer connections and likely does not have any higher educational experience.

A child in the lower half of SES is more likely to deal with factors such as lack of food and shelter, causing stress. This fact is worsened by the over-representation of black and brown children in the lowest-SES.

About 35-percent of Black children and 50-percent of Latinx children are from the lowest-SES families, compared to 16-percent of White children. Many variables cause the disparity; although, it has an impact on more than just food and shelter.

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The report found that families in the highest SES spent $5,000 on education. While those in the lowest-SES spent $1,000, that money translates into pencils, paper, tutors, and learning resources that help a child through their life as a student, as well as the environment they’re educated in.

Nevertheless, the report finds talent is a small factor in academic achievement. The environment you’re raised in, and the resources provided during your education have a bigger impact.

Meaning, before a child even enters a classroom, inequality by nature of their zip code adversely impacts them.

About 48% of public school funding comes from local government, usually property taxes.

If you’re born poor and live in a low-income district, your school gets less funding.

More precisely, school districts with the highest level of poverty receive about 10% less combined state and local funding per student than districts with the lowest level of poverty.

Furthermore, the report found that Black and Latinx students face educational discrimination through funding.

School districts with majority Blacks and Latinx student populations receive about 15% less state and local funding per pupil than districts with majority white student populations.

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By the same token, high-poverty non-White districts receive 11% less revenue per student than high-poverty White districts. This means if you’re a poor black kid on the north side of Tulsa, your high school still gets less funding than low-income majority White districts in Oklahoma. There are many factors other than taxes causing this disparity, such as local businesses and alumni unwillingness to donate to low-income majority Black and Latinx schools.

Moreover, unequal school funding does not only affect the number of books and chairs but the teachers that the district can attract.

Because experienced teachers usually seek to work in affluent districts — this leads to higher income districts recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers, making it more likely that low-income districts have less-qualified teachers and high teacher turnover.

Additionally, school funding also affects the courses and activities they can offer.

For example, students in high SES districts usually have access to Advanced Placement (AP) classes. Even when low SES districts offer AP courses, they aren’t as numerous.

This crushes the dreams of college-aspiring students because AP classes look great on a college application.

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The quest for an escape from poverty is made harder for Black and Latinx students because they may face discrimination in the classroom as well.

The report found that schools disproportionately suspend or discipline Black and Latinx students when in comparison to their white peers and are more likely to be subjected to harsher punishments for similar, if not the same, infractions.

Additionally, teachers are more likely to refer Black students to the main office for discipline due to minor infractions such as being disrespectful, while they are more likely to refer White students for objective offenses like vandalism.

At school, a Black student is more likely to be sent to the office and be suspended for more days for the same or lesser infraction compared to a white student doing the same thing.

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At the end of the day, Black and Latinx students have to fight to educate themselves. Even if they’re smart, they must fight to defend their intelligence.

Many students in the lowest SES don’t keep their scores through high school.

About 50% of kindergartners in the lowest-SES with top half math scores end up in the bottom half by 8th-grade when compared to 74% of students in the highest SES, which never leave the top half of the scores.

Even if a student in the lowest-SES survives high school with math scores in the top half, a student in the highest SES with bottom half math scores is still more likely to complete a college degree than them because they were born wealthier.

Our educational system is failing these children. About 500,000 high school students with the skills to graduate college never get any college credential — not a degree, not even a certificate.

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A 10th-grader in the highest-SES with bottom-half math scores is 56% likely to stay in the top half of SES than a student with top-math scores in the lowest-SES, 47%, has a chance to reach it by the age of 25.

This means that even if a student is smarter than a lawyer’s kid, that kid is still more likely to be wealthier than that student in the lowest-SES after they reach 25 years old.

The harder you work, does not mean you’ll get what you deserve. It only means you’re working to potentially get what others were given.

The research in this report helps solidify that meritocracy is dying in the United States.

It may be possible to rise socioeconomically, although the work is not proportional to the reward given. People, who are born poorer than others, have to work harder to achieve half of what another was given.

The idea that the United States is a meritocracy is venomous to the working class.

Because in a system where people are told they are poor because there is something intrinsically wrong with them, those same people will never question the system that abuses them. Most of the privileged have no empathy for those who suffer without the privileges they have been given.

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Subsequently, the privileged often blame the victims of the system for their, own, suffering, instead of blaming the system that hurts them both; the causes the poor fight for would benefit everyone. Medicare for all, higher wages, and free college would help wealthier people as well.

The belief that the poor deserve their place leads to the division and tension between the classes and is further cut into pieces by race because of racism.

We can’t work toward the same goals if we’re divided between racial and class lines.

This tension and infighting is the oldest trick in the political book because it protects the system.

We must work for equality in education, through funding and expanding access to preschool education, high school counseling, and tutoring. It will not solve all of America’s problems. Although, it is on the checklist of fixing America.


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Cormell J. Padillow is a contributing writer/intern for the Black Wall Street Times and is a Wichita, Kansas transplant. He is The Black Wall Street Times’ first intern and is currently a high schooler at Langston Hughes Academy for Art and Technology. Padillow has been a high school policy debater for 3-years and has competed at the National, State, and local levels. His words and pen have become the tool he uses to change the mind of the many.

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