Let me say this very clearly. The 1% are pretty much irrelevant to the education of (most of) the 99%. There is a motivating myth in our society that hard work will pay off financially. True to human nature, people cannot seem to resist putting everything in pendulum-swinging, either-or terms. Get an education and get rich. Forego an education and be poor. As if 1% of the population is rich and the full 99% are not. The Occupy movement got the Gallup people to wondering, so they melded 61 surveys to come up with a demographic comparison of the 1% and the 99%. What they found is startling.
The official top 1% of American households in 2010 includes those with incomes of at least $516,633, according to data from the Tax Policy Center as reported in The Washington Post.
Unsurprisingly, 49% of the 1% have postgraduate degrees, compared with 16% of the 99%. We have all heard critics of the Occupy activists say that if they stopped occupying and worked as hard as the 1%, they too might have a chance at becoming the 1% (a mathematical impossibility, given the nature of percentages,but never mind).
This is not to say that college degrees guarantee vast wealth. To the contrary, only a small fraction of all Americans who report having a postgraduate education (1.5%) or an undergraduate degree but no postgraduate education (0.8%) fall into the top 1% category. However, the comparable rates are many times smaller -- no greater than 0.3% -- at all other educational levels.
Let's get this straight. Although nearly half of the 1% have postgraduate degrees, only 1.5% of postgraduate degree holders are members of the 1%. In other words, the 1% did not get there by virtue of their education; they were born into the 1%.
Maybe we should look at the median knowing full well that raising the median income will also move the median. There will always be an amount that 50% fall above and 50% fall below. The 2010 median income in the US is $49,445. Instead of obsessing on statistics, we should focus ensuring that all students have a fair shot at reaching their potential. Fact is, poverty dramatically reduces those chances. Fact is, Dad's socioeconomic status is the major predictor of children's socioeconomic attainment. Fact is, worthless either-or polarities aside, education is still the best route out of poverty.
More generally, college education is strongly correlated with household income. Nine percent of Americans earning less than $20,000 per year are college graduates; this rises to majorities of adults in all income groups above $100,000. Similarly, few adults in low-income households have postgraduate education, and this rises only into the teens among middle-income adults. But it sharply increases among those earning $100,000 or more, peaking at 49% among those earning between $250,000 and $499,000, and those earning at least half a million.
What the rich do for their children is put them on a different “trajectory” of wealth.
some high poverty schools that were also high performing. These schools were able to lift student achievement, close gaps, and set their students on a trajectory of success.
The differing trajectory include a differing frames of reference, work approaches and loci of focus. Rich kids “inherit” a different ability to compete and different access to opportunity. Even the family junk mail is different. We could begin by funding all schools equally, ignoring the protests of those who say they do not want their tax money paying for other children, or those who hesitate to donate if they cannot designate which school receives the donation.
In the United States, we actually fund poor schools less than other schools. The highest performing countries do the opposite. More than that, the highest performing countries have less poverty because they invest in infrastructure designed to expand the middle class. In the United States, we are killing the middle class, and our student achievement will pay a dear price.
We could stop pointing to achievement outliers as feasible role models. Just because Abe Lincoln did it does not mean everyone can (and it's your own darn fault if you don't). Every field has outliers. Not every highly talented cellist can be Yo-Yo Ma. Not every great tenor can be Pavorotti. Not every terrific actor can be Meryl Streep. Not every highly skilled computer geek can be Steve Jobs. Most of us do not realistically have a chance at being the 10%, never mind the 1%. If you make more than $138,000, you make more than 90% of the population.
In my experience, success at high poverty and high performing schools is not based on merit pay, high stakes testing, vouchers, bureaucratic personnel evaluations systems, alternative certification, or any other glitzy idea that politicians seem to embrace so easily.
In fact, what American education needs most of all is a blessing high performing schools enjoy on an individual basis, a blessing high performing education systems take as a societal given, relational trust. Another disturbing fact: too many powerful stakeholders in our society are well-satisfied with the education status quo for their own self-interested reasons.