This text was adapted by The Saylor Foundation under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 0 License without attribution as requested by the work’s original creator or licensee. Preface



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Family Income and Race/Ethnicity


Government data readily show the effects of family income and race/ethnicity on educational attainment. Let’s first look at how race and ethnicity affect the likelihood of dropping out of high school. shows the percentage of people ages 16–24 who are not enrolled in school and who have not received a high school degree. The dropout rate is highest for Latinos and Native Americans and lowest for Asians and whites.

Figure 11.1 Race, Ethnicity, and High School Dropout Rate, Persons Ages 16–24, 2009 (Percentage Not Enrolled in School and without a High School Degree)

http://images.flatworldknowledge.com/barkansoc/barkansoc-fig11_001.jpg

Source: Aud, S., Hussar, W., Kena, G., Bianco, K., Frohlich, L., Kemp, J., et al. (2011). The condition of education 2011. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.

Now let’s look at how family income affects the likelihood of attending college, a second benchmark of educational attainment. shows the relationship between family income and the percentage of high school graduates who enroll in college immediately following graduation: Students from families in the highest income bracket are more likely than those in the lowest bracket to attend college. This “income gap” in college entry has become larger in recent decades (Bailey & Dynarski, 2011). [4]



Figure 11.2 Family Income and Percentage of High School Graduates Who Attend College Immediately after Graduation, 2009

http://images.flatworldknowledge.com/barkansoc/barkansoc-fig11_002.jpg

Source: Aud, S., Hussar, W., Kena, G., Bianco, K., Frohlich, L., Kemp, J., et al. (2011). The condition of education 2011. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.

Finally, let’s examine how race and ethnicity affect the likelihood of obtaining a college degree, a third benchmark of educational attainment. shows the relationship between race/ethnicity and the percentage of persons 25 or older who have a bachelor’s or master’s degree. This relationship is quite strong, with African Americans and Latinos least likely to have a degree, and whites and especially Asians/Pacific Islanders most likely to have a degree.



Figure 11.3 Race, Ethnicity, and Percentage of Persons Ages 25 or Older with a Four-Year College Degree, 2010

http://images.flatworldknowledge.com/barkansoc/barkansoc-fig11_003.jpg

Source: Aud, S., Hussar, W., Kena, G., Bianco, K., Frohlich, L., Kemp, J., et al. (2011). The condition of education 2011. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.


Explaining the Racial/Ethnic Gap in Educational Attainment


Why do African Americans and Latinos have lower educational attainment? Four factors are commonly cited: (a) the underfunded and otherwise inadequate schools that children in both groups often attend; (b) the higher poverty of their families and lower education of their parents that often leave children ill prepared for school even before they enter kindergarten; (c) racial discrimination; and (d) the fact that African American and Latino families are especially likely to live in very poor neighborhoods (Ballantine & Hammack, 2012; Yeung & Pfeiffer, 2009). [5]

The last two factors, racial discrimination and residence in high-poverty neighborhoods, need additional explanation. At least three forms of racial discrimination impair educational attainment (Mickelson, 2003). [6] The first form involves tracking. As we discuss later, students tracked into vocational or general curricula tend to learn less and have lower educational attainment than those tracked into a faster-learning, academic curriculum. Because students of color are more likely to be tracked “down” rather than “up,” their school performance and educational attainment suffer.

The second form of racial discrimination involves school discipline. As we also discuss later, students of color are more likely than white students to be suspended, expelled, or otherwise disciplined for similar types of misbehavior. Because such discipline again reduces school performance and educational attainment, this form of discrimination helps explain the lower attainment of African American and Latino students.

The third form involves teachers’ expectations of students. As our later discussion of the symbolic interactionist perspective on education examines further, teachers’ expectations of students affect how much students learn. Research finds that teachers have lower expectations for their African American and Latino students, and that these expectations help to lower how much these students learn.

Turning to residence in high-poverty neighborhoods, it may be apparent that poor neighborhoods have lower educational attainment because they have inadequate schools, but poor neighborhoods matter for reasons beyond their schools’ quality (Kirk & Sampson, 2011; Wodtke, Harding, & Elwert, 2011). [7]First, because many adults in these neighborhoods are high school dropouts and/or unemployed, children in these neighborhoods lack adult role models for educational attainment. Second, poor neighborhoods tend to be racially and ethnically segregated. Latino children in these neighborhoods are less likely to speak English well because they lack native English-speaking friends, and African American children are more likely to speak “black English” than conventional English; both language problems impede school success.

Third, poor neighborhoods have higher rates of violence and other deviant behaviors than wealthier neighborhoods. Children in these neighborhoods thus are more likely to experience high levels of stress, to engage in these behaviors themselves (which reduces their attention and commitment to their schooling), and to be victims of violence (which increases their stress and can impair their neurological development). Crime in these neighborhoods also tends to reduce teacher commitment and parental involvement in their children’s schooling. Finally, poor neighborhoods are more likely to have environmental problems such as air pollution and toxic levels of lead paint; these problems lead to asthma and other health problems among children (as well as adults), which impairs the children’s ability to learn and do well in school.

For all these reasons, then, children in poor neighborhoods are at much greater risk for lower educational attainment. As a recent study of this risk concluded, “Sustained exposure to disadvantaged neighborhoods…throughout the entire childhood life course has a devastating impact on the chances of graduating from high school” (Wodtke et al., 2011, p. 731). [8] If these neighborhoods are not improved, the study continued, “concentrated neighborhood poverty will likely continue to hamper the development of future generations of children” (Wodtke et al., 2011, p. 733). [9]


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