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The Association of Social Class Essay

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The association of social class and education is more intricate and has a bigger relevance of impacting career today than ever before. It is no doubt that students from upper class who study at elite schools and colleges are ultimately better placed in jobs, than their counterparts from the public schools. Although, this achievement gap may be attributed to their education, it is the exclusive combination of class and education which sees them through. Inspiring stories of humble beginnings making it big in the US exists, like that of Antonio Villaraigosa who went on to become a mayor and Tom Vilsack who went on to become a governor of Iowa.

This kind of upward mobility occurs very less, than most of us believe it to be. In the US today, there is less mobility compared to what we had about two decades back. The economic mobility in the US is now lesser than that in France, Germany and several other European countries. It should be noted here that the only country with less economic mobility compared to US is England. This retardation of upward mobility may be attributed to education. In 1765 President Lyndon Johnson said he believed that the country is obliged to offer every child in the US, all the education he or she requires (Haycock, 2006).

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However that promise had gradually eroded in the subsequent decades. Educational systems and opportunities have seen major changes particularly in the last fifteen years. Rather than bringing a sense of equality and coverage for all its children, it has increasingly become associated with class and wealth. This aspect of education is highlighted by the fact that today low income family students with high achievement record and students from rich family with low achievement record, go to colleges at similar rates. Education in the US has been traditionally viewed as an escape route of poverty and low social standing.

It has been presumed that staying at school is important to overcome modest beginning. However sociological research has shown that a person’s ultimate job and income is not only an outcome of his education, but is also dependent on the social class of the person. Thus there is no logical relationship between one’s education and resultant job and income. Among the upper class white people, who had either inherited wealth or are established professionals, their social class contributes more in determining their ultimate job and salary than their education.

The combination of social class and race is effective in blocking lower classes from reaching upward mobility while also protecting the upwardly mobile from slipping down. The upper class use education to avoid slipping from their upwardly position by sending their children to elite schools. A considerably high percentage of upper-class children are enrolled in elite private schools, where working class children are noticeably less (Anderson and Howard, 2006). Among the middle class white population, although education helps them to improve their prospects of getting middle class jobs, their access to upper class positions are very little.

When the US educational system was originally conceived during the nineteenth century, it was intended to be a equalizing force in the US. It was meant to establish equality to all citizens irrespective of race, religion, gender and social class. It was presumed that children from all backgrounds would sit together and learn. Learning together was thought to bring an understanding of each other and thus establish harmony. Education has reduced inequalities in the society since the turn of the twentieth century.

The percentage of students graduating from high schools has increased for all minorities, races and gender, although there were inequalities. With more minorities and women graduating from the colleges, they began occupying middle and sometimes high level jobs too. However there are still many inequalities in US education. Education was traditionally associated with the upper class, with their children getting the best available education from the leading and popular schools. Their education from private prestigious schools culminated to one of the country’s most popular universities.

This upper class student mainly took to professional careers like medicine and law. It was very common for people of this class to get a higher degree in their field and become university professors (US Library of Congress, 2003 -2008). After a few years they take up high profile public offices or even family business, which they can now easily promote using their current social standing. When Bruce Charlton, of the psychiatry department at Newcastle University attributed the higher percentage of upper class students in highly selective universities to pure meritocracy, it evoked an angry response.

Charlton emphasized that the UK government was claiming that universities particularly of the likes of Oxford and Cambridge were turning off people with socially lower class background, which however isn’t true. According to Charlton, no evidence to this was ever presented, although the issue has triggered off a class war. He maintains that the ongoing clash of opinions does not seem to recognize a plain truth; that socially higher class people have an average IQ which is much higher than that of the socially low classes.

He adds that the unequal proportion of low and upper class students in prestigious institutions is not a result of their class or corruption but rather the natural result of their meritocracy. Replying to Charlton, Gemma Tumelty of the National Union of Students (NUS) said that the higher education sector is obliged to ensure that students from all social backgrounds are provided an equal opportunity, proportionate to their potential (Attwood, 2008).

Tumelty highlighted that students’ career and lives are shaped by the social inequality, even before they leave school, and that the situation cannot be improved as long as strategists like Charlton supported the existing situation rather than calling for a change. Robert Sternberg of Tufts University also criticized Charlton, saying that by accepting his views, we only ensure that the higher classes get all advantages unhindered with the lower classes withering out.

However, Robert agreed with the correlation of IQ and class, maintaining that higher society people have many advantages in education, economic factors and socialization which they would pass on to their children. The government emphasis on school education can be rightfully said to be much more than that in any other public domain. The government has initiated considerable steps in not only providing education to all who require, but also in ensuring that the quality of education provided, is actually beneficial. The Head Start programs and other such programs are examples of the government initiatives in education.

There are some Head Start programs which incorporate High/Scope education approach into their agenda. Here, teachers encourage children to initiate their own learning activities and set the daily routine accordingly. It was observed that children who attended Head Start associated with the High/Scope approach had higher average grades throughout their schooling and lesser number of criminal convictions compared to those who had attended standard Head Start program. Recent findings indicate that High/Scope approach is now used in about 37% of Head start programs.

To ensure that its approach and strategies for child development are consistent with the current research and findings on the subject, the Head Start Bureau put in place the Child Outcomes Framework in 2000. The framework provides research based developmental curriculum appropriate for Head Start, emphasizing mandatory benchmarks for preschool children within broader goals. The framework is formed of 8 general Domains, 27 Domain Elements and several specific indicators of children’s skills, knowledge and behaviour. It helps in analyzing and using data on child outcomes for its own assesment and improvement.

The curriculum and the assesment tools of a Head Start program needs to be evaluated based on the Framework to ensure that children are developing towards the identified goals. Head Start is basically rooted to the idea that a child’s development and learning are interrelated and important. The achievements by the public school students may be a topic of debate when compared to private school achievements. However these two vary fundamentally in their set up and operation with the schools on the private sector having all reasons excellent student achievements.

Public schools are funded through government funds while the private schools are funded through tuition, fund raising and donation. The teacher in public schools are usually certified and required to be trained in coursework and teaching while private school teacher need not have this certification. The public schools take students of diverse backgrounds whose admission is sought just by filing out a form. The parent of a student in public school can send the child to another nearby public school, if the parent is not satisfied with the school assigned.

According to the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), the average costs for a private day school in 2005 was nearly $14,000 for a 1 to 3 grades and $15,000 from grades 6 to 8 and $16,600 for grades 9 to 12. While the curriculum and funding had been fixed by the government for the public schools, the private schools have their own curriculum and instruction methods The admissions in private schools include an exclusive selection process. Here the students have fairly similar goals and interests as they have all been selected through a similar process, despite being from various neighborhoods.

The public schools are required to admit and educate children with special needs. They have special education programs and appropriately trained teacher to handle special needs children. Private schools are not obliged to accept special needs children and most schools do not admit them. Sometimes when private schools admit special needs children, additional costs would be charged for the extra facilities and resources provided (Great schools, 2008). Although there are several basic differences between public and private schools, one should not deny that there very good public schools as well as very good private schools.

A 2006 study conducted by the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) sought to determine the inequalities in the reading and mathematics scores between the public and private schools. The study based on 2003 data, took into consideration all student aspects like gender, race and whether the student was an English language learner. The results showed that the mean reading score for grade four in private schools was 14. 7 points higher than that for public schools. In mathematics the mean score was 7. 8 points higher than that of the public mean score.

For grade eight the mean reading score for private schools was about 18. 1 points higher than that for public schools and the mean mathematics score was 12. 3 points higher (NCES, 2006). The school level response rates for grades four to eight were low for the private schools compared to that for the public schools. The school level response was based on the responses of the teachers and school administrators. However, Peterson and Laudet of the Harvard University challenged the conclusions of the study on the grounds that statistical adjustments were required for student characteristics.

After making the necessary statistical adjustments, the results were seen to be different. Among the fourth graders, it was now observed that the public schools had a mean score of 4. 5 points more than that of the private schools in math and both were equal when it came to reading (Peterson and Laudet, 2006). Among the eighth graders, private schools were in the lead with 7 points in reading and was on par with math. Peterson and Laudet also faulted on the NCES’s inconsistent procedures for determining student characteristics measures.

Student characteristics measures included factors influenced by schools. The NCES study was considered to be biased in analyzing student capabilities in private and public schools. It has been determined that the academic performance of a student is also related to the individual’s socio-economic status (SES) and the student’s family background. This socio-economic status is dependent on the family income, parental occupation and parent’s education. It has been generally accepted that higher income family students also have higher levels of achievement compared to students from lower income groups.

Also the level of student’s achievement is in line with the education level of their parents (Perry, 2007). The education and income factors are inter-related with an individual having higher education getting a higher pay. Schools having students of high SES do well in standardized tests due to appropriate student intake. That is, these schools do well because of their abilities and characteristics of their students rather than the effectiveness of the schools. The social classification of the students also contributes to the academic performance of the students apart from individual SES.

The program for International Students Assessments (PISA) has determined that students’ academic performances are better in schools having higher SES, irrespective of their individual SES. The average school SES has relevance on the student, even beyond their individual SES. Therefore it is not wrong to presume that a student from middle SES would achieve less in a lower SES school or achieve more in a higher SES school. Most parents understand this correlation and therefore prefer high SES schools over low SES schools. A culture more supportive of student achievement is offered by schools with higher SES.

Student need not worry of having to lose their social status as a result of high achievement. These schools have very little or no discipline problems and have good teacher – student relationships which makes the teacher have higher expectations on the student (OECD, 2005). The teacher morale in higher SES schools is high, with fewer turnovers in teaching staff, enabling schools to recruit and train good teachers. In the low SES schools, the schools primarily have difficulties in recruiting and retaining capable teachers. The students themselves are less motivated and equipped.

Students from lower SES schools have low levels of teacher expectations, do less homework and prefer avoiding tough subjects. The gap in the abilities and achievements of school student’s, increase with time. The gap between performances of lower and higher class students’ increase with increased exposure to society. Therefore the achievement gap is less at the early school years and more pronounced at later college years. This is because as they grow up, they are faced with more societal demands, which can hinder their education.

The upper class students can easily mange them, while the lower class students struggle to come to terms with the demands placed on him. For instance, financial compulsions may require several compromises on the student’s requirement, sometimes even requiring the student to work. These factors are then reflected on the academic performances and later on their career. The upper class students can concentrate on their education as societal demands don’t interfere with his or her education. There is no doubt that education is the foundation for bigger career goals, but only higher social class with that education can guarantee this career goal.


Haycock K. (2006) Promise Abandoned: How policy choices and institutional practices restrict college opportunities. The Education Trust [Electronic Version]. Retrieved on 5th August 2008 from http://www2. edtrust. org/NR/rdonlyres/B6772F1A-116D-4827-A326-F8CFAD33975A/0/PromiseAbandonedHigherEd. pdf NCES (2006) Comparing Private schools and public schools using hierarchical linear modeling Trust [Electronic Version]. Retrieved on 5th August 2008 from http://nces. ed. gov/nationsreportcard/pdf/studies/2006461. pdf Peterson P.

E and Laudet (2006) On the private-public school achievement debate. Harvard University [Electronic Version]. Retrieved on 5th August 2008 from http://www. hks. harvard. edu/pepg/PDF/Papers/PEPG06-02-PetersonLlaudet. pdf Attwood R. (2008) Elite institutions’ class bias simply reflects ‘meritocracy’ [Electronic Version]. Retrieved on 5th August 2008 from http://www. timeshighereducation. co. uk/story. asp? storycode=401980 US Library of Congress (2003 -2008) Upper Class [Electronic Version]. Retrieved on 5th August 2008 from http://countrystudies. us/colombia/39. htm Anderson M.

L and Howard F. T (2006) Sociology: Understanding a diverse society Thomson Wadsworth OECD (2005) School factors related to quality and equity: Results from PISA 2000. Great schools (2008) Private vs. public schools: What’s the difference? [Electronic Version]. Retrieved on 5th August 2008 from http://www. greatschools. net/cgi-bin/showarticle/CA/197 Perry L. B. , (2007) School composition and student outcomes: A review of emerging areas of research. Murdoch University. [Electronic Version]. Retrieved on 5th August 2008 from http://www. aare. edu. au/07pap/per07416. pdf

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