Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Measuring SES

It is a well known fact that Catholic schools in general tend to have better success with poor students than public schools.  While its hard to know the degree to which selection plays a role in the success of Catholic schools with these kids, we know that it does play a role.  I guarantee you that the most difficult children in any any class will be those with parents that are "not in the picture".  These are the kids that are frequently absent, don't return homework, don't respond to consequences, and  - no surprise - have little respect for authority.

One of the things that gets glossed over in education debates (which are really about poor schools), is the meaning of SES (socio-economic status).  What this is often measured by is a simple formula: free/reduced lunches = low-SES.  The problem with this formula is that while it is a pretty good at measuring financial capital, it is a poor measure of things like parent education, intact family, substance abuse, parenting skills, and a variety of other factors that are profoundly deterministic in a child's development. 

I think this is something that is generally missed in discussions of poverty in general.  Everyone can look at poor neighborhoods and see how much more dysfunctional they tend to be.  But then we see that some people do manage to grow up poor and find success.  Yet this doesn't mean that there is no correlation between poverty and lack of success.  It just means that poverty alone doesn't determine failure.  What determines failure are a variety of risk factors, such as substance abuse, lack of education, etc., that strongly correlate with poverty.  Not everyone in a poor neighborhood has every one of them, but they are much more likely to.

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