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Social Class and Academic Performance

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Class Status and Academic Performance


“Who fails and who succeeds in America's schools? For sociologists of education, the significance of this question rests with the fact that academic performance is socially stratified” (O’Connor, 2001, p. 159). Unfortunately, this paper will reveal facts that confirm this claim. Throughout this paper, I will discuss the idea of class and how it perpetuates itself within the classroom. As well, I will investigate recent studies into class in the classroom and how the students are affected in the relative short term and long term. These class-based studies, however, do not account for differences within each class. “Class-based models cannot, however, make sense of such findings and the commensurate variation in achievement that occurs within social-class groups. They provide no means of explaining why some poor and working-class youths succeed in school and cannot account for the relationship between gender positioning and achievement” (O’Connor, 2001, p. 163). Therefore, I will restrict this analysis to the disparities between classes, rather than ones that occur within the classes themselves. Ideas from our classroom articles will also be used to substantiate my opinion on the problems with class stratification in the classroom. Finally, I will supply a first step to rectifying this situation, but at the same time raise an issue of whether or not eliminating class stratification is in anyone’s best interest.

Literature Review

I. Class Status

There are a variety of advantages that one receives, whether they are tangible or not, based on certain criteria that place you on societies ladder. This ladder is known as class. “At the structural level, social identities reflect divisions in society that are marked by systematic material and/or power inequities. Thus, class identity is marked by the fact that those with wealth have privilege and power compared to those without” (O’Connor, 2001, p. 159 – 160). This seems to imply that wealth is the only determining factor when considering one’s class. However, there are more components to class than simply economic standing. “Social class is about not just income (as often suggested in the popular press) but also the degree of one’s personal power and the extent to which one’s work creates dignity and respect (Zweig 2000). According to Zweig, 62 percent of the workforce is working class, exercising little control over working conditions or other workers” (Van Galen, 2007, p. 157). As the upcoming studies will prove, schools play a large factor in students ending up in this significantly sized working class. Perpetuating this fact is that the demands for jobs in this area are increasing. “The most rapid job growth is not among high-tech, high-wage sectors of the economy, but rather among low-wage service-sector jobs, few of which require high levels of education or skill and few of which pay wages sufficient to support a family (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2000)” (Van Galen, 2007, p. 158). This compounds the problem that a large group is still growing. From a student’s perspective, in order to ascend the social ladder, their known previous way of life must be sacrificed. “Early on I did not realize that class was much more than one’s economic standing, that it determined values, standpoint, and interests. It was assumed that any student coming from a poor or working-class background would willingly surrender all values and habits of being associated with this background” (Hooke, 1994, p. 182). It was “assumed” because the students moving up needed to fit into their new group, rather than the higher class needing to accommodate a new member.

II. Class Factors in College Recommendation

An interesting angle to look at how different classes are treated in high schools is how guidance counselors use this information to recommend colleges. The study, "’High School Guidance Counselors: Facilitators or Pre-Emptors of Social Stratification in Education’, found that class was a bigger factor than race when it came to counseling high-school students” (Banerji, 2006, p. 15). Furthermore, the stereotypes associated with the different classes were recognized and treated differently by the counselors. "…class is positively related when it came to counselor recommendations to four-year colleges and negatively related when it came to community colleges" (Banerji, 2006, p. 15). To interpret this determination, the study found that more higher-class students are recommended to four-year colleges and more lower class students to community

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