"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Academic Achievement Gap Between the Rich and the Poor

In one of the Facebook's discussion forum - "Education in the Philippines: Facing up to the challenges", I read the following post by Jed Cepe:
With the much-sensationalized news about Napoles and her genius, I found out one indicative factor of how education and literacy are in the Philippines. 80% of the Senators and Congressmen are graduates of UP, Ateneo and La Salle, top-notched schools of the "learned" and "can afford". 
60% of the Senators and Congressmen had their Masteral Degrees in the aforementioned schools. 
30% of the Senators and Congressmen earned their Masteral and Doctoral Degrees in Harvard, MIT, Sunhearts, Oxford, AIM. 87% of the Senators and Congressmen are Career Executives (CESO, CSEE, MNSA) 
Now comes Napoles, who schemed a mighty large bundle of the budgetary allocations. A Radio Communications Operator, an obsolete course, from Samson Institute of Technology. Now, what happens then to Education? Who is more literate - and yes, learned?
It is not clear what the above really suggest. On one hand, the numbers seem to indicate that quality education is only accessible to the elite in the country, but then at the end, the post is suggesting that a graduate from a perceived not-top-of-the-line school has outsmarted everyone. I am not sure about the second part- of who outsmarted who - since the facts of what actually transpired are not yet available. To suggest that a graduate from Samson Institute of Technology outsmarted Harvard and MIT alumni maybe premature at this point. The whole story still needs to be unraveled.

One thing seems to be obvious, people in society have great expectations from education forgetting the fact that even churches often fail in teaching morality. With education, one must not forget that one part of education, science, is in fact amoral. Science does not teach good from evil. It simply discriminates between "correct" and "incorrect". Science is a tool and it can used to either promote good or evil. The same holds for education. Education can be a tool to promote equity in society, but it can also be used to heighten the difference between the destitute and the wealthy.

In the United States, the past fifty years have seen the rise of academic achievement gap between socio-economic classes. Sean F. Reardon of Stanford University writes in "The Widening Academic AchievementGap Between the Rich and the Poor: New Evidence and Possible Explanations":
In this chapter I examine whether and how the relationship between family socioeconomic characteristics and academic achievement has changed during the last fifty years. In particular, I investigate the extent to which the rising income inequality of the last four decades has been paralleled by a similar increase in the income achievement gradient. As the income gap between high- and low-income families has widened, has the achievement gap between children in high- and low-income families also widened? 
The answer, in brief, is yes. The achievement gap between children from high- and lowincome families is roughly 30 to 40 percent larger among children born in 2001 than among those born twenty-five years earlier. In fact, it appears that the income achievement gap has been growing for at least fifty years, though the data are less certain for cohorts of children born before 1970. In this chapter, I describe and discuss these trends in some detail. In addition to the key finding that the income achievement gap appears to have widened substantially, there are a number of other important findings.
This study has been highlighted in a previous post in this blog, "Are the Poor Left Behind Or Are the Rich Simply Pulling Ahead?" Sarah Garland at the Hechinger Report illustrates the widening achievement gap between rich and poor with the following illustration from Sean Reardon:

Thus, the wealthy have a higher probability of getting accepted to good schools in the United States. In the Philippines, a large majority of members of Congress come from the upper income class of the country. It should therefore be not surprising that some of these members likewise have degrees from highly selective schools in the US. Highly selective schools in the US obtain their reputation not just from their selectivity, but more on the research productivity of their faculty as well as career success of their alumni. This is the reason why the rich strive to send their children to these schools.

The question of morals is more difficult to address. What is easier to tackle is the question of equity. This one is not even easy in absolute terms, but addressing equity in education is perhaps more within reach than trying to figure out how to teach good versus evil.

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