December 7, 2014

The role of class in school segregation

Portside - Since the 1950s, American society has increasingly been segregated by socioeconomic status, with the proportion of the country living in middle-income territory steadily shrinking since 1970. The effects clearly have spilled over into schools.

“Relative to 40 years ago, high-income kids are more likely to be surrounded by other high-income kids, low-income kids by other low-income kids,” Greg Duncan, an academic who has studied the interaction of income segregation and equality, said in a speech earlier this year.

Such socioeconomic sorting causes all sorts of problems. Some are related to the schools themselves—so-called school effects—with those catering to poorer kids offering lower-quality, poorly financed education options. But other issues stem from the low-income monoculture of schools segregated by class. Since children of low-income parents typically are less prepared for high school and get less guidance on strategies for advancement toward college, low-income kids can benefit immensely from going to school with with kids whose parents are college-educated and know the ropes a bit better. Both are important. “But peer influences were far stronger than school effects,” said Gregory Palardy, who has studied the impact of socioeconomic segregation on high school achievement.

Perhaps most perniciously, the effects of socioeconomic and racial segregation linger even for those students who do manage to make it to college. These strivers graduate at far lower rates than their counterparts from more affluent families.

Why? A number of universities and researchers are coming to the conclusion that a big part of the reason so many students fail to finish is that they feel that they don’t belong.
That’s not only a shame, it’s another indication of the socioeconomic gulf that keeps Americans from different class backgrounds living in what are effectively different countries.

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