The Very Spring and Root

An engineer's adventures in education (and other musings).

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Rich White Dropouts

Mangino, W., “Why Do Whites and the Rich Have Less Need for Education?”, American Journal of Economics and Sociology (July 2012):

It is generally assumed that affluent kids get more education than their middle-class peers. But it turns out that on average, rich kids find they can get away with less. An analysis by a sociologist reveals that, in a national sample of kids who attended public and private high schools in the 1994-1995 school year, the odds of graduating high school and attending college were actually lower for white and rich kids, controlling for other individual and contextual factors associated with educational achievement. In other words, Paris Hilton’s future was bright even if she didn’t graduate from high school and go on to college, so she didn’t.

(From Idea Columnist Kevin Lewis in Uncommon Knowledge, Boston Globe, Sunday, July 22, 2012.)

Something about this was bugging me until I realized that I think the title is misleading. The excerpt compares wealthy kids (who are overwhelmingly white) to middle-class kids (who are mostly white). Poverty (which is overwhelmingly, but not exclusively non-white) does not appear to be part of the comparison. The “other individual and contextual factors associated with educational achievement” which were statistically filtered out are the heart of the matter, which is that educational inequity (from the perspective of opportunity, not simply educational level) is fundamentally more about socio-economic and class inequity than almost anything else.

To compare the absurdly-rich-and-privileged with the not-so-rich-but-still-relatively-privileged and make a statement like “Do Whites and the Rich Have Less Need for Education?” seems to really miss the point. Something like “Why Quality Education is Necessary to Ensure Equitable Opportunity for All” might get closer to what’s important (I think).