Education Prospects for Rich & Poor

For months I have held onto the May 2007 edition of The American Prospect (TAP) waiting for Peter Sacks’ newest book to come out, anticipating especially that I would be able to write about the chart on TAP‘s page A19 while discussing Sacks’ tome. Oh me of little faith, of course Sacks included the same data in his book. The chart from the National Center of Education Statistics shows that who attends college has more to do with income level than achievement level. In fact the low income top achievers have about the same chance of attending college as bottom-rung achievers from high income families (78% and 77% respectively). An affluent low-achiever is more than twice as likely to go to college as a similar achiever from a poorer family.

Sacks’ book, Tearing down the gates: Confronting the class divide in American education, is a densely researched examination of how class differences snowball from stroller/preschool choices until by the high school years it may be too late to get even an award-winnning but low-income science student into college. It will be impossible to do his book justice in the brief format we use here (so I encourage readers to leave comments!). At times in reading this book I was eager to find out what happened to the real-life students as I can be to find out what happens to characters in a novel–just couldn’t put it down, or when I did, felt distractedly eager to get back to it. There was even some suspense–for example, for about 180 pages I waited to find out if there is any alternative ranking system to the US News and World Report “beauty contest,” entertaining the idea of proposing that Mr. Sacks start one. Turns out the newsmagazine Washington Monthly does rank colleges according different criteria, including how many low-income students they enroll and other measures of commitment to the public good. He highlights MIT as an institution showing it’s possible to do both well, attaining #1 ranking on Washington Monthlys list and #7 in US News and World Report.

I have more to say about highlights and gleanings from Sacks’ work, but no time right now. I’ll be back to add that later (it’s been so long since I posted anything…been trying to finish this book–it was so exciting and seemed like the next thing I wanted to write about!).

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