Does Money Matter? A Fresh Look at Underachievement Among Low-Income Students
Does Money Matter? A Fresh Look at Underachievement Among Low-Income Students
PUBLISHED: Monday, August 27, 2012 by Sean Redmond

Identifying and serving gifted students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds is one of the greatest tasks educators face today. Recent research out of Indiana University offers new insight into why this issue has proven so challenging. Assistant professor of sociology Jessica McCrory Calarco has found that working-class parents may be teaching their children different classroom behaviors than their middle-class peers. She argues that children from poorer households are often taught to find solutions on their own: to not ask questions or ask for help. Middle-class parents, on the other hand, encourage their children to speak up. There is concern among some gifted education scholars that traditional gifted identification measures do not adequately recognize children from culturally diverse and economically disadvantaged backgrounds, and behavioral differences such as this may be one of the reasons why. Such behavior may also explain why gifted students from poor economic backgrounds tend to be underidentified and underachieve. In Britain, for example, a study from earlier this year showed that "the highest-performing pupils from disadvantaged families lagged around two-and-a-half years behind bright children brought up in wealthy homes by the age of 15."

Another recent study, however, shows that there may not be as much correlation between income and school success as one might expect. Gallup Inc. asked nearly one million students in grades 5–12 to assess their levels of hope, engagement, and well-being, and then studied how these positive mindsets correlated with academic achievement. The researchers found that hope accounts for as much as 13% of a student’s expected success, but that no correlation was found between a student’s hope and his or her family income. Of course, “hope” is just one small factor that determines a student’s academic prosperity—alongside, it should be pointed out, engagement, which, as the Calarco study illustrates, may very well correlate to socioeconomic status.