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Race and class matter when it comes to who gets ahead educationally in American society, according to an analysis released today by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

The report, "Born to Win, Schooled to Lose: Why Equally Talented Students Don’t Get Equal Chances to Be All They Can Be," analyzes various federal education databases to show that children who are black or Latinx or are from low-socioeconomic-status families perform worse over time academically that those who are white, Asian American or are from higher socioeconomic levels. The part of the report that may be particularly alarming is that these trends hold true even for disadvantaged students who are academically talented and for those who are privileged but less academically talented.

"Throughout their youth, relatively advantaged children enjoy protective and enriched environments that help ensure their success," the report says. "Meanwhile, equally talented children from poor backgrounds are held back by material disadvantages. Stunningly, a child from the bottom quartile of socioeconomic status who has high test scores in kindergarten has only a three in 10 chance of having a college education and a good entry-level job as a young adult, compared to a seven in 10 chance for a child in the top quartile of socioeconomic status who has low test scores."

The report features comparisons of student outcomes from elementary school up. Some of the key comparisons concern college attendance and completion. These comparisons show patterns in which wealthier students of below-average achievement outperform others -- including those of higher academic achievement. Consider the following data on those who attended any college, attended a four-year college or completed a college degree:

Other data focus on patterns by race, and find that those who are white or Asian are more likely, 10 years after being in 10th grade, to have completed a college degree -- whether their mathematics test scores in high school are above average or below average.

The report argues that these and other statistics point to broad inequities in American society that hold back talented students from some groups. Policies exist that would change these patterns, the report says, arguing that "it doesn't have to be this way."

Four broad policies are suggested:

  • "Expand academic interventions that start before kindergarten."
  • "Continue academic interventions throughout K-12."
  • "Improve and expand high school counseling so that more students have the information and social supports they need to transition from high school to postsecondary education and training."
  • "Integrate career exploration and preparation into the advising process at the high school and college levels."

The report argues that these and other policies are essential to create the kind of opportunity Americans have for years said it is open to everyone (even as many have suggested that's never been the case).

"The likelihood of success is too often determined not by a child’s innate talent, but by his or her life circumstances -- including factors that determine access to opportunity based on class, race and ethnicity. In short, the system conspires against young people from poor families, especially those who are black or Latino," the report says. "There is still reason for hope: a child who struggles can beat the odds and become a high-achieving adult … We need to use education to clear the pathway to opportunity for all, regardless of background. With adequate resources, schools can influence students’ development of skills and abilities and, ultimately, their socioeconomic mobility."

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