Sunday, October 12, 2014

What does SAT expand to? Student Affluence Test!

One of the best lines ever from the political theatre that I have had the pleasure of watching after moving to the country was the one delivered by Ann Richards, when I was just about getting acquainted with the actors and their affiliations, by which I mean politicians and their parties:
Poor George, ... he can't help it ... he was born with a silver foot in his mouth.
It was the best of the show business in America and I was hooked.  I remain a political junkie to this day, sadly! ;)

Bush, of course, went on to win the elections.  A few years after that, Ann Richards lost the governorship to Bush's son, "W."  And then she lived long enough to see "W" also get elected as president, and then get re-elected as well.

Being born even with a silver foot in the mouth helps. It helps a lot.  To make it is relatively easy when born into the "correct" contexts.

We discount the head start that the silver spoon kids get because of the other narrative that we want to believe--the Horatio Alger myth of rags to riches, from nowhere to the White House.  We are so desperate to believe in the myth that will go to any length to be in denial of the reality, which I have blogged often here, sometimes as choose your parents well.

Today's evidence is from SAT scores.  It will be a rare older American adult who does not remember his/her SAT scores from the high school days.  The number leaves a permanent imprint in one's mind.  Because of the repercussions that the score has for college, scholarship, and the rest of one's life.

It is increasingly clear that the SAT score is highly correlated with the silver spoon effect:
On average, students in 2014 in every income bracket outscored students in a lower bracket on every section of the test, according to calculations from the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (also known as FairTest), using data provided by the College Board, which administers the test.

Students from the wealthiest families outscored those from the poorest by just shy of 400 points. Given the widespread use of the SAT in college admissions, the implications are obvious: Not only are the wealthiest families best equipped to pay for college, their kids on average are more likely to post the sort of scores that make admissions easy.
Now, before you condemn that finding as something from a loony left publication, well, it is from the capitalist-friendly Wall Street Journal.  As I noted in a different context, if even the WSJ or the Economist is reporting about something that I have often worried about, it then means that the shit has hit the fan. Game over, folks. The end. Finito. The fat lady has sung.
Family wealth allows parents to locate in neighborhoods with better schools (or spring for private schools). Parents who are themselves college educated tend to make more money, and since today’s high school seniors were born in the mid-1990s, many of the wealthiest and best-educated parents themselves came of age when the tests were of crucial importance. When the SAT is crucial to college, college is crucial to income, and income is crucial to SAT scores, a mutually reinforcing cycle develops.
Yep, when you choose your parents well, a mutually reinforcing cycle begins.

The problem is glaringly obvious--you can't choose your parents.

So, what happens then if your parents happen to be, say, high school educated blacks who live a blue-collar life in the low-income neighborhood that has awful schools?  Tough luck, kid!  It is your fault that you didn't choose your parents well!

Now, think about the WSJ's report from just a few months ago:
Proving the adage that all of life is like high school, plenty of employers still care about a job candidate's SAT score. Consulting firms such as Bain & Co. and McKinsey & Co. and banks like Goldman Sachs Group Inc. ask new college recruits for their scores, while other companies request them even for senior sales and management hires, eliciting scores from job candidates in their 40s and 50s.
Yep, choosing the parents well is an awesome strategy--don't worry about the silver foot in your mouth because it will all work out in your favor, and you can even proudly beat up on others who can't make it despite all the "equal opportunity" that the land of the free provides!


Ramesh said...

The operative word in your analysis is "average". Yes, on an average rich kids will do better than poor kids, its better to choose your parents, etc etc.

BUT (and this is a big but)

It IS possible to rise well above your station. The US has historically been, and still is, the best place for this to happen. However faulty it may be, the US is still a meritocracy. Increasingly India and China and moving that way. I know of numerous personal examples from both India and China, where children have risen 5 or 6 levels above their parents. This was largely through education.

The real life experience that brings tears to my eyes every time I think about it is the lady who was our domestic help 15 years ago. She had three daughters. She worked in some 7 or 8 houses those days to earn money. She worked her socks off to educated her three girls. All three girls did computer sciences. One works for TCS, one works for Wipro and one works for Infosys today. Woohooo.

Its not all doom and gloom my friend.

Anonymous said...

I would rather be interested in the outliers in this data pool. Look for the number of kids in the low income grps that have really high scores. As long as that increases over the years....then junk this data.

Sriram Khé said...

Of course, it is the "average" that public policies are all about. When Anon comments about interested in the outliers, well, it makes for interesting case studies but doesn't do anything for public policy-making.
And, of course, the "possibility" exists for one to rise above one's station in life. However, the data show that the "probability" is nowhere anywhere near the highs that we naively imagine to be the case. While your examples are encouraging no doubt, Ramesh, that is from a population of a billion people, and we need to keep in mind the larger data. The meritocracy notion works well in theory, but is a lot more unreal in the world.

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