The Guardian – February 28, 2006:

A study by academics at University College London (UCL) and Kings College London has given statistical backbone to the view that the overwhelming factor in how well children do is not what type of school they attend- but social class. It appears to show what has often been said but never proved: that the current league tables measure not the best, but the most middle-class schools; and that even the government’s “value-added” tables fail to take account of the most crucial factor in educational outcomes – a pupil’s address.

This unprecedented project has revealed that a child’s social background is the crucial factor in academic performance, and that a school’s success is based not on its teachers, the way it is run, or what type of school it is, but, overwhelmingly, on the class background of its pupils.

“These are very important findings, which should change the way parents, pupils and politicians think about schools,” says Richard Webber, professor at UCL. “This is the first time we have been able to measure the precise impact of a child’s social background on their educational performance, as well as the importance of a school’s intake on its standing in the league tables.”

Put simply, the more middle-class the pupils, the better they do. The more middle-class children there are at the school, the better it does. It is proof that class still rules the classroom.



  1. randmeister says:

    Before anyone starts flaming about class warfare or the race card, let me suggest this:

    If you look a little closer at individuals rather than just their socioeconomic statistics, I think you will find that kids’ performance is correlated with the amount of parental involvement, i.e. reading, helping with homework, encouragement, and teaching the kids by example.

    I think the deeper problem, and one that correlates well to socioeconomic status (including location and race), is that the kids who perform well have parents that are free to make good choices and take time to help their kids. I think that many parents are not able to give this support and encouragement – moms working 2 jobs just to pay rent and utilities, deadbeat dads, lack of opportunity in the city vs. the suburbs, commute times, divorces, etc. Those are the people who care but don’t have the time or freedom to give their kids anything more than the bare essentials.

    For several reasons, I’m fortunate enough to be able to help my kids grow and perform their best, but even with the best intentions I find it difficult to spend enough time with them just trying to keep up with bills and work and all the little things. Imagine how hard it is for people who don’t have the same options.

  2. SignOfZeta says:

    You need a study to say this?

    Deja vu…

  3. Chris says:

    > You need a study to say this?

    No not really, but having a study makes you sound like your know what your talking about.

  4. stew says:

    All over again.

  5. Mike says:

    I would think that culture would play nearly as big a role as class.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see poor asian kids consistently performing better in school than rich white kids who are heavily into the hip-hop sub-culture.

  6. Floyd says:

    Anthony has it right. I have a friend and former coworker who is half Black, half Filipina. She grew up with her black mother, who always told her she was stupid. Unfortunately my friend believed her mom, and she didn’t do all that well in school. Fortunately she got a clerical job in a place where she was given a chance. Someone noticed that she was always coming up with newer, better ways to do tasks at work. She was urged by a supervisor to take an IQ test, and found out she had a IQ near 130. She’s going to community college to catch up on the things her mother had discouraged her from working on (spelling for some reason is her worst subject).
    Eventually she’ll get into a regular university and will get her degree, but it has taken her a long time to break free of the negative messages her mom had impressed on her.

  7. Jason says:

    I haven’t found this a reflection on my life. Being raised in a rather poor area, I still have done well in school and in my career.

  8. Chris Gregg says:

    Mike said:

    > I wouldn’t be surprised to see poor asian kids consistently performing
    > better in school than rich white kids who are heavily into the hip-hop
    > sub-culture.

    I teach at a public high school that is well funded and has a large proportion of upper-middle/upper class students. It also has a decent proportion of lower-income students from all races/cultures. The low-income Asian kids struggle as much or more than than low-income students from other cultures. They get slammed by the “model minority” myth (as Mike demonstrated), and teachers expect them to do better and they don’t always focus on those students as much. Yes, there are a lot of Asian students who do well in school, but there are also many who do not.

    That said, this study does not surprise me.

  9. T.C. Moore says:

    This is the first time we have been able to measure the precise impact of a child’s social background on their educational performance

    Not likely.
    Obviously this guy hasn’t read Freakonomics.
    I think “precise” is open to interpretation in a study like this.

    At least we aren’t as bad as some other countries, though Canada, Japan, and Finland are obviously doing something right:

    http://www.economist.com/images/20060211/CSU154.gif
    (The full article is “premium content.”)

  10. James Hill says:

    I haven’t found this a reflection on my life. Being raised in a rather poor area, I still have done well in school and in my career.

    But there’s the rub. If you didn’t do well in school you’d be working at Taco Bell. Meanwhile, if someone raised in an upper class setting didn’t do well at school there would still be oppertunities for the individual.

    In the end, an upper class black man has more in common with an upper class white man than he does a lower class black man. The idea that we’re divided more by race… or sex… or orientation… than class is a joke.

  11. Mike says:

    Chris,
    I wasn’t suggesting that as a rule it happens that way; I am only saying that cultural influence on achievement (and under-achievement) can probably be shown to has as significant an impact as social class.

  12. catbeller says:

    Looking a bit deeper into the situation in Blair’s England, it seems the PM has nursed through a version of USA-style “privatization” and “school choice” into law.

    Lord, forgive them, for they knew what they were doing. What it will do, as it did here with the suburban/city split, will create generations of ever-improving super-kids one one side and an ever-worsening underclass attending schools that parents of superkids will ignore. The parents of the underclass will be blamed for their bad parenting choices, and the superkids will become the shining faces of news networks, unable to comprehend how mangled the system that spawned them has become.

    A shuddering disaster, and they actually fell for it.

  13. joshua says:

    to catbeller…..the U.K. like many countries is having some major problems with their education systems. The old system in the U.K. of *equailty* in all non-private schools has produced a deep erosian of over all education quaility. Instead of a few schools doing badly, most doing good and the rest doing great, they have found that now most are only doing *fine*, a lot are doing badly and very few are doing great.
    The new education bill, while a bit timid in it’s scope and not addressing some very important issues is putting in place several different ideas and giving them time to settle in and find out what works best and what is a bomb.
    Just as they do here, the Teacher unions and those with a vested interest in things staying the same are totally against ANY new ideas. But in the U.K. at least the goverment is trying out some new ideas, and it’s supported by both the Tories and most of Labor.

  14. Podesta says:

    I’ll just focus on one comment, but I want to address several of them. James Hill said:

    “In the end, an upper class black man has more in common with an upper class white man than he does a lower class black man. The idea that we’re divided more by race… or sex… or orientation… than class is a joke.”

    There is foolishness. Then there is utter foolishness. People of color have a history that defines much of their lives. That upper-class black man has family that has twice the likelihood of being poor as white people. He likely attended a historically black college. His ‘upper class’ status still reflects at least a 20 percent income differential because of racial discrimination. (If he were a minority woman, the differential would be even bigger.) He has little or no inherited wealth because his ancestors had none to pass on. Often, he can’t even get a taxi unless a white person hails it for him.

    To ignore the reality that race plays an important role in American life is foolish. It is also rather amusing that it is the ‘James’ of society, white men who benefit from the privilege of being white men everyday of their lives, who are so full of this crap. People of color know better.

    Mike and Floyd offer stereotypes to try to shift the blame for the education gap — the Model Minority and the Evil Black Woman. Even if racist stereotypes were true, which they aren’t, they wouldn’t explain away a long history of neglect of poor and/or minority children in American schools.

    There are people like Chris Gregg who have offered useful insights in regard to the educational achievement gap on this thread. But, most of the commenters are attempting to rationalize the status quo.

  15. Mike says:

    Podesta, what don’t you understand about me making a point about the cultural influence on achievement?

    It’s not the race, per se, that I am referring to, it is the general emphasis placed on education and achievement that certain cultures possess.

    Perhaps you should stop with this victimhood nonsense and realize that in order for any group to progress, they must move on from the past. You’re not helping anybody by pointing fingers and suggesting that everying sucks because of the color of your skin.

    While you’re stuck in the mud with that, I’ll be wondering why Americans (including the “privileged white kids”) are falling farther and farther behind India and other countries in mathematics and science. Gee, maybe it’s because they give a shit just a little more than we do.

  16. Gregory says:

    Seriously Mike, Podesta just demonstrated everything that is holding some people back in minority cultures…
    … the idea that because they are a minority, they will always be inferior.

    What entitlement bullshit is that? Victimhood is right.

  17. AB CD says:

    This is bogus. All they had to was take a look at some of the same schools doing well at certain periods and poorly at other times. Sometimes it was the students that changed like at Dunbar, other times it was the teachers and teaching methods.

  18. Podesta says:

    Mike, for what you are claiming to be true, that people of color are responsible for the achievement gap in education, American history would have to be false. For example, it was only a few decades ago that some Southern states closed their public schools rather than desegregate them. There are parents of children today who are still suffering the consequences. They lack the skills to help their offspring. Somehow, people like you manage to miss facts like that, though you always seem to have an offensive stereotype to offer.

    Resegregation of schools that did desegregate, along with white private schools, have resulted in most minority students being educated in environments segregated by race and class in Southern and some Midwestern states. Studies show that children from poor and working-class backgrounds do better when they are attend school with middle-class children. Ending the isolation, and providing assets such as books to low-income children, are key to closing the educational achievement gap.

    Let’s revisit history a bit more.

    • Before 1865: More than 90 percent of black residents of U.S slaves. Forbidden by law to learn to read and write in most states.

    • 1865-1877. The Freedmen’s Bureau and the Quakers set up schools for freedmen. Black children and adults flock to them, often having worked a full day in the fields and going to school at night.

    • 1878. Reconstruction ends and so do many education efforts for blacks as the Ku Klux Klan terrorizes the former slaves and sympathizers. More than 5,000 people, most of them African-American, are lynched between 1878 and 1960.

    • 1890-1954. Southern states legally maintain separate and unequal education systems for whites and non-whites. Often, schools for black children are open only during periods when they are not needed to work harvesting cotton and other crops.

    • 1954 to present. Brown v. Board. Southern states begin their Massive Resistance to school desegregation. They will fail from a legal perspective. But, as stated above, American schools will largely remain segregated by race and class.

    Tim Wise says that many white people rush to try to shift the blame for the harm done by the racism to minorities because they believe that if they accept responsibility they might have to change. He believes they say irrational things because they fear the truth — that they and their ancestors are responsible for the continuing effects of discrimination. Perhaps he is right. Definitely, no one looking at the facts of history could rationally believe that minorities created the achievement gap in education.

    Gregory, thanks for demonstrating the kind of remarks persons ignorant of history make.

  19. Me says:

    Class is nothing more than a type of cultural influence. A culture of ignorance breeds ifgnorance. Ignorant parents will likely raise ignorant children.

    Parental involvement is probably the number one influence, but if the parents themselves are ignorant the child is starting with a disadvantage.

    Genetics might matter as far as intelligence goes, but race means nothing other than as a possible indicator of cultural background. (Yes, I know that’s “profiling”…)

  20. James Hill says:

    Wow. Pretty angry for a crackpot. I make valid points and all you can do is call names.

    Looks like I win again.

  21. Me says:

    From the blog referenced below: ” Conventional wisdom holds that middle-class parents take an interest in their children’s education, while low-income and minority parents lack the drive and savvy necessary. The black exodus here demonstrates that, when the walls are torn down, poor, black parents will do what it takes to find the best schools for their kids.

    http://powerlineblog.com/archives/013298.php

    Class, schmass – all you really need is to provide opportunity.

  22. I do not place great trust into this study. Personal experience: coming from different school system, (E.Europe), I can say with 100% accuracy that the typical oveachievers in that set of circumstances are the poor. More wealth there is almost linearly related to the lower school/university performance. Hence the study conclusions are not true in general. Now to the USA higher education where I now work: my best students typically turn out to be from poor (economically) bacground. Interestingly, they typically originate from abroad (ex. my best student ever was “dirt poor” Ethiopian…). So, I’d say that if there is any correlation it is between culture typically imprinted on the poor in the particular social surroundings and their performance in education. Apparently in some cultures (E.Europe, Africa, …) poor people grow up with more desire to do beter… Maybe there is something there for USA cultural activists to learn from…

  23. Pete says:

    I believe that the problem is more social-ecomical one. A number of studies here in Canada and elsewhere, found that kids who go to school hungry then to perform not as well. A breakfeast club was started in poorer neighborhoods here in Montreal a few years back. And the overall grade average jumped up quite a few points. Itdoes not mean that it is the only solution to the problem. But like everything else, the causes are many and the solutions has numerous. Remember that the said middle class was almost non existant a few generations ago. Stating that the lower class cannot acheive anything better, is ignoring the past.

  24. Podesta says:

    Dusan, economists concur that the major characteristic of successful Americans is that they come from a middle class or higher background. Less than 10 percent of people who enter the top two percentiles of wealth will have come from working-class and poor backgrounds. There used to be more flux, but during the last two decades, upward mobility pretty much froze. The New York Times did an excellent series about class in America a few months ago that you can access from its archives.

    Pete, ‘class’ and ‘socio-economic status’ mean pretty much the same thing. Yes, breakfast and reduced price lunch programs help. So do purchasing books for pre-school and elementary age poor children. But, isolation is also a factor in why there is an achievement gap. They are shut out of the flow of information that middle-class children take for granted.


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