Saturday, May 01, 2010

The Highest Scores Money Can Buy

It's a sad but salient fact that SAT scores correlate extremely well to family income.

The greater the wealth of one's family, the higher one's SAT scores tend to be, and this discrepancy is most pronounced at the upper and lower ends of the income scale.

The obvious explanation is that affluent families can afford to buy the best in academic enhancements like private school tuition, special programs, tutors, coaches, and other advantages. Amidst increasing economic inequality and decreasing social mobility in modern American, it's increasingly true that money buys academic achievement, higher SAT scores, and attending economic opportunities.

An excellent article in the New York Times goes into detail.

As a professional academic coach, I know this to be so. My students succeed where others fail because they can afford to pay me to help them. Consistent with the law of supply and demand, the most experienced and capable academic coaches charge very high fees that only the affluent can bear.

Isn't it just a bit hypocritical for someone like me, who makes a living by exploiting the unusual ability of wealthy families to hire private teachers to make sure their children are successful in school, to complain about the foundational inequity at the root of the entire private education industry?

Guilty as charged.

Although the complete eradication of social inequality is neither possible nor desirable in a capitalistic society, I do maintain that severely tempering educational inequality would be a very good thing. Basic education at all levels should be much more equally available (and a LOT less expensive) in America. If necessary, I could simply find another job.

America currently finds herself fighting for her life in what Thom Hartmann has described as the self-destructive cancer stage of capitalism ... the final chapter in the story in which greedy, consumptive, parasitic instincts inherent to the capitalist system begin to eat and ultimately destroy the system itself and bring to ruin any society which rests upon it. At this critical point, the elimination of gross economic inequality is not only possible and desirable in our society, but essential for its survival.

Just as we cannot rely on foxes to guard hen houses, markets cannot responsibly police themselves. After the near economic meltdown we've just been through, I think this conclusion should be obvious to all but the most delusional "free marketeers." In the face of such terrifying and overwhelming evidence, even neo-liberal cheerleader and Ayn Rand acolyte Alan Greenspan has had to admit he was wrong about the "innate evil" of government regulation.

More and more, success in America requires prior success. We are, in fact, witnessing the death of the American Dream. A society in which achievement and advancement are based largely upon heredity and family wealth is fundamentally incompatible with basic moral, ethical, and democratic ideals such as meritocracy, fair play, and freedom. The rest of the developed world already understands this.

Eventually, we Americans will learn the same lesson. (Perhaps it's more accurate to say "relearn," since this truth was first realized by Americans during the Great Depression of the 1930's.)

I just hope we won't have to learn it (or relearn it) the hard way.

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