There is a large body of research demonstrating the connection between family income and educational achievement. The connection is strong. It underlies the transformation of this country into one increasingly characterized by a lack of socioeconomic mobility. But simply pointing to the fact that family income predicts educational achievement does not tell us why this is the case. More bathrooms at home do not seem to have an obvious connection with learning readiness. [Insert bathroom joke here.]
But there are some places where the connection between family income and educational achievement seems weak or non-existent. For example, here are some estimates of 2010 high school graduation rates for male Black and male White students for the state of Maine as compared to those for the nation as a whole:
The gap, nationally, between male black and white graduation rates is about 24 percent. To put that another way, the white rate is half again as high as the black rate. But in Maine, the gap is 4 percent. Hardly noticeable. And the graduation rate for black males in Maine is much higher than the national average for white males.
Here are Census figures comparing family incomes:
Maine is a poor state. These Census figures show that the white families of Maine are poorer than the national average for white families and that black families are considerably poorer—living right on the poverty line.
And yet the sons of black families do very well in school. Why is this? What can we learn from this outlier?
Here’s a theory: There are too few black students in Maine to concentrate in inferior schools. They attend the same schools as their white peers, have the same teachers, and must meet the same expectations. They are not herded into “drop-out factories” and expected to fail.
If that theory is correct, the experience of black students living in poverty in Maine points to a way out of our continuing education — and socioeconomic — crisis. All students deserve the opportunity to learn in good schools. Given that opportunity, they do learn and are able to build a foundation for a better life.