Posted by: Gregory Linton | 05/20/2019

New report highlights the educational obstacles faced by low SES students

Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce released a new report titled Born to win, schooled to lose: Why equally talented students don’t get equal chances to be all they can be. This 40-page report challenges the presumption of the American Dream that “individual talent will be rewarded, regardless of where one comes from or who one’s parents are.” Instead, a child’s ability to succeed educationally is determined more by the circumstances into which that child is born than by the innate talent or abilities of the child. Although some students from low socioeconomic conditions are able to rise above their circumstances in spite of the odds against them, most find the obstacles stacked against them insurmountable. The authors state bluntly: “In general, money trumps talent when it comes to the prospects of the poor and the working class. In other words, if you come from a poor or working-class family, the changes are slim that you’ll be able to be all than you can be” (p. 3). Here is a list of some of the key points made in the report:

  • Talent isn’t fixed: Innate ability can be nurtured over time, or it can remain underdeveloped.
  • The ability of children to improve their academic talent is determined more by income, class status, race, and ethnicity than by hard work.
  • Half of low SES students who have high test scores in kindergarten have fallen behind their peers by eighth grade.
  • Equally talented children from low-income backgrounds are held back by lack of access to enrichment activities, underfunded schools, poorly maintained neighborhood infrastructure, limited interactions with role models who have postsecondary experience, and racial and ethnic discrimination.
  • A student from a low-SES family who shows academic promise has less of a chance of “making it” than a student from a high-SES family who is academically weak.

The authors offer this trenchant observation: “In America, it is often better to be rich than smart” (p. 5). Of course, the recent admissions scandal has made that point very clear to the American public. For another summary of the report, read this article on

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