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A Theoretical Framework of the Relation between Socioeconomic Status and Academic

Achievement of Students (Gigi Lam (2014))

A socio-psychological analytical framework will be adopted to illuminate the relation between

socioeconomic status and academic achievement. The framework puts the emphasis to
incorporate micro familial factors into macro factor of the tracking system. Initially, children of
the poor families always lack major prerequisite: diminution of cognitive stimulating resources.
Hence, they are very likely to be assigned to the class of low caliber. The diminution of cognitive
stimulating resources originates from stress coping strategy of the parents, parental expectation
and parenting. As students advance to upper grade, a triad nexus of expectation among
parents, students and teachers help perpetuate the vicious cycle among students of poor
families. Students with low socioeconomic status bear entire brunt of the tracking system in a
way that they get poor academic result and high school dropout rate.

10 Theories On The Relationship Between Socioeconomic Status & Academic Achievement

By Grant Wiggins,
We know that the link between a child’s socio-economic status (SES) and school
achievement is real, it is a very tight link as such things go, and the link has existed for
decades. Here, for example, is a recent Missouri report; here is a graph for PA PSSA
data, from a blogger: Here’s another from a recent dissertation.
Ever since the Coleman report in the 60s and the controversial book The Bell Curve by
Herrnstein and Murray in the 1990’s dozens of studies keep finding the same thing:
socio-economic status is correlated with student achievement. (We leave the related but
different problem – the achievement gap between Asians, whites, blacks, and Hispanics
– for another day: that is a related but different set of issues.)
The question I have is – why does SES predict achievement so well – not just at the
extremes, but all along the graph? The older I get, the less sense it makes. And the more it
is clear that a glib single-cause explanation of it is unacceptable.
I have been pondering this for decades. I was stunned as a teacher by the College
Board data for the SATs. That data, then as now, shows that SAT scores go up in
perfect tandem with $20,000-dollar family income amounts. Here is the 2012 data:
Family Income Reading Mathematics

0$ – $20,000 433 461

$20,000 –
$40,000 463 481

$40,000 –
$60,000 485 500

$60,000 –
$80,000 499 512

$80,000 – 511 525


$100,000 –
$120,000 523 539

$120,000 –
$140,000 527 543

$140,000 –
$160,000 534 551

$160,000 –
$200,000 540 557

More than
$200,000 567 589
Pause, consider: does this make sense to you as an educator? Does it make any sense
that the amount of money the parents make at each level is a better predictor of the
SAT score than, say, the number of advanced courses, the size of the school, the
length of service of the teacher, or the amount of TV watched by kids? Again, we are
not just comparing rich and poor (which seems more common-sensical). No, the data
correlate all the way along. Why would someone whose parents make $80,000 dollars
per year in general have higher SAT scores than someone whose parents make
$60,000 dollars per year? On the face of it, that should strike us as odd. We should
have long ago asked: what gives here?

In a concise and readable article in American Educator Spring 2012 (as part of his
ongoing delightful series entitled “Ask the Cognitive Scientist”) Daniel Willingham
summed up what we think we now know about the SES/Achievement correlation this
“On average, kids from wealthy families do significantly better than kids form poor
families. Household wealth is associated with IQ and school achievement, and that
phenomenon is observed to varying degrees throughout the world. With a more fine-
grained analysis, we see associations with wealth in more basic academic skills like
reading achievement and math achievement. And the association with wealth is still
observed if we examine even more basic cognitive processes such as phonological
awareness, or the amount of information the child can keep in working memory.”

However, care is needed. This is “on average.” The key word in all of this is
”association” or correlation. As researchers never tire of saying (though we never tire of
forgetting) correlation is not causality. The data do not prove that parental
income causes student achievement any more than the correlation of smoking and
alcoholism means that one causes the other.
He concludes his introduction to the summary of findings with this caveat: these effects
are not due to household income alone. In fact it’s unlikely that they are directly due to
income at all…. The effects of wealth must be indirect and must accrue over time.
Do you see the oddity more clearly? Money alone is unlikely to be the determining
factor: the SES/achievement link is tight but indirect; it accrues over time. But across the
board? The indirectness is another way of saying: opaque; it means that we
are guessing about the meaning of the correlation. And to my eye, many of the guesses
are implausible because they make the fatal mistake of inferring a single cause or two.
Numerous studies and policy recommendations, for example, have made bold claims
about poverty as the key (direct) cause. Here is an often-cited address by Helen
Ladd; here and here are two views by respected researcher David Berliner; here is
another respected researcher making the case. Here is a typical newspaper article in
which policy-makers rely on the causal case.
Yet, there are plenty of highly-respected researchers on the non-causal side.Here is a
summary of Harvard’s Paul Peterson’s critique of the poverty-as-cause theory; here is
the full article. (Here is a summary of the argument between Ladd and
Peterson.) Here, here, and here are often-cited analyses questioning the link by
stressing the role of good teaching.
What should we conclude? It seems clear to me: that we still don’t reallyunderstand the
correlation or exactly where and to what extent we should be fatalistic or optimistic
about the power of schooling.
Let’s Be Logical
I am not saying that poverty plays no role in achievement. I am not saying that the
correlation between SES and achievement is false. I am merely stating the obvious,
given the data – we still don’t really understand the indirectness of the correlation and
the fact that across the range of SES student achievement is predictable:
1) the graphs above are curious if we believe that schooling and teachers make a
difference in people’s lives. It is unclear and counter-intuitive why a family making
60,000 dollars per year should produce children with higher SAT performance or state
test performance than a family making 50,000 per year.

2) We often fail to keep in mind the indirect role of SES. SES has nodirect bearing on
what students accomplish in school. Nothing that happens in school directly involves
parental income or requires it. So, the fact that achievement correlates with parental
income involves some connection that people keep speculating about. So, it is still
reasonable to ask, in the face of the long-time correlation: why should
an indirect relationship be more salient than a direct relationship, such as the caliber of
the teaching, class size, or the rigor of the curriculum – for an entire 12-year academic
career in which kids spend 6 hours a day or more in school? Do readers believe that
most schools are thatineffective?
3) It doesn’t follow from the data that schools in poor neighborhoods are “bad” and
schools in wealthy suburbs are “good”. Indeed, if this were true, all along the SES
continuum, then the SES/parental income graph would be far less important and would
likely look different: better schools would correlate with better achievement; so, we
would just make bad schools more like good schools. But that isn’t what the data or my
own career says is true.
Hmm, what about the so-called good schools? Well, this is where the issue becomes
interesting to me as a life-long educator and reformer. The correlation between SES
and school achievement has remained steady in spite of over two decades of school
reform, and achievement gaps exist in almost all “good” districts and schools.
Worse, various attempts to study the supposed value added from schools have turned
up dispiriting results. I know of one prep school that commissioned an internal study and
found there to be NO GAIN over 4 years on measures of critical thinking. Colleges and
researchers have found similar results using the CLA. I know for a fact (though, good
luck getting the schools to report it) that some private schools have data to show that
incoming SSAT scores perfectly predict SAT scores by the time the kids graduate.
Another related clue: even in the most elite schools and colleges, pre-assessment and
post-assessment on tests of science misconceptions (such as the FCI in Physics) show
remarkably little gain.

10 Theories On The Relationship Between Socioeconomic Status and Academic

I can think of 6 general reasons that, on their face, might explain why SES/Achievement
correlates and why outlier successes haven’t borne fruit more generally:
 SES links to genetic/health factors that determine levels of achievement
 SES is a marker for home-life conditions that determine levels of achievement
 Schooling is mostly ineffective at all levels
 Schools resist fundamental and sweeping changes
 Professional development is mostly a failure
 What we measure is invalid and misleading
There are a few wrinkles within the categories, so I derive a total of 10 plausible
theories we need to consider collectively (while casting some doubt on each of the 10
as I pose it):

1. School as we know it and keep it reflects IQ, IQ is pretty fixed, so school cannot ever
make much of a difference. (This is pretty much the Murray thesis from 20 years ago.
Seems excessively fatalistic, and naïve about IQ vs. the particulars of school).
2. Parental income is a marker for pre-school conditions and behaviors in the home (what
Willingham calls “family investment”). The poorer the family, the less likely the child is
ready in terms of schooling-related enablers: habits, vocabulary, thinking, and
experience. And pre-school entry-level abilities are life-determining. (But why can’t the
gap be made up by all the intensive schooling we do? Don’t we see some narrowing of
the gap in schools that attend to this?)
3. Parental income is a marker for ongoing parental support of schooling and school-
related behavior once the student is in school. No doubt this links to
mobility/attendance issues, too. (But that doesn’t explain to me why middle-class kids
don’t do as well as upper-middle class kids. And do wereally think that all along the
income curve parenting gets “better”? Seems pretty glib to me.)
4. Parental income is a marker for student health (what Willingham calls “stress” theories).
This is the research in Paul Tough’s recent book, and Willingham devotes considerable
attention to it. (But then why aren’t upper-middle class kids struggling academically,
since they are arguably under a lot of stress? And why doesn’t anyone call attention to
howdreadful many of the schools are that Tough describes? Having spent lots of time in
schools, I find much of the urban school experience boring and dispiriting myself: cf.
Haberman’s famous paper on the Pedagogy of Poverty)
5. Poorer children have access to inferior schools compared to children of the more
wealthy. Corollary: those schools are underfunded. (While perhaps true at the margins,
there is little evidence to support this view along the whole curve. And money spent on
improved schooling has not shown to be a driver in changing the curve, especially in
terms of Federal dollars).
6. So-called ‘good’ schools provide no more value added than ‘bad’ schools. The ‘good’
kids just start out more able and willing to do well at the thing we call school. (Seems
implausible that good schools aren’t good.)
7. Schooling as we conduct it is dysfunctional overall, except for a few outliers bucking
centuries of tradition: it is pre-modern, fixated on grade-level content coverage rather
than talent development, and is lacking in quality control of teaching, student peer
pressure is stronger than school values, etc. so the ‘givens’ trump the weak
interventions. (An interesting angle; again, it seems implausible that most schools, even
“good” ones, have so little effect.)
8. Though schools are often ineffective, they strongly resist sweeping change, due to
dysfunctional politics, naivete about reform, contractual obstacles, inertia, and
inadequate systems for causing effective change internally. (This seems true over the
last 25 years in the face of so much reform, but given the incentive to improve schools
in the face of NCLB, why would inertia trump incentive?)
9. Though schools need to change and often initiate changes, they stand little likelihood of
success because ‘best practice’ is rarely taught to teachers in pre-service and in-service
professional development is notoriously poor; and even when PD is decent, there is far
too little time and space to practice and internalize it with coaching and feedback.
(Seems true, but why is PD still so poor in the face of accountability, budget crises, and
knowledge about ‘best practice’?)
10. Because our testing systems do not measure growth and the value added by schooling
very well, we misjudge the schools’ effectiveness; the correlation of one-time scores
with SES is thus beside the point. And since IQ correlates with SATs and state test
scores, what is likely happening is that tests unwittingly reflect given abilities rather than
genuine educational attainments. This was McClleland’s argument over 40 years ago
and central to my work in authentic assessment over the years. (Plausible, but it seems
like a stretch to say that the vast array of data we have and have been using for
decades is completely off the mark.) A corollary here: the SES/achievement correlation
may be a data trend, but people have sloppily gotten into the habit of communicating
and calling it a truth.
The first 5 theories basically presume that the non-school factors are quite powerful and
outweigh the good that school does. #6 – #9 say that fatalism is unwarranted, that
school does matter in theory, but that there aren’t either enough good schools or
enough good teachers for poor children. #10 suggests that we have been looking in all
the wrong places to explain the correlation, that if we had better measures (or more
precise communication about the data) the problem might be completely re-defined.
I’ll explain in a later post my own theory. (Hint: the outliers + no single theory as
adequate). Meanwhile, do you have a theory or combination of the 10 factors for a
sensible and thorough explanation for the correlation of parental income and
achievement? Let’s hear it! Try not to cherry-pick or rationalize ad hoc a pre-existing
belief. Clearly, no single theory has been useful so far in greatly improving education
nationally, so any theory that is likely to be useful moving forward is going to have to
address most of these issues, not just one.

Conceptual Framework

At a time of lively appraisal of educational development, when many changes are being
witnessed in organization, curricular and teaching techniques, it is pertinent to seek systematic
and up to date information on the significant correlates of achievement. It is appropriate, in this
context, to consider at once the factors affecting academic achievement such as the student’s
socio-economic background Chopra (1969) of Lucknow University studied the relationship
between socio-economic background and achievement. It was found that higher socio- economic
group students were significantly higher than those of the students from the middle and lower
socio- economic group. This study revealed that there is positive relationship between socio-
economic background and achievement in English, mathematics and science. Goswami (1982)
found that in both urban and rural areas, the upper socio- economic status group has done
significantly better than the lower socio-economic group in the achievement tests of science,
languages and humanities. Rothman’s (2003) analysis revealed that within the same school, a
student who comes from a higher socio-economic group will achieve better test results than a
student from a lower socio-economic group. In Britain, according to a recent report by the
United Kingdom Government’s Social Exclusion Unit (2004), a child born into the bottom social
class is still more likely to leave school with no qualifications, to live in relative poverty and to
die younger than their peers born into the professional classes. Sirin (2005,)
explains,“…methodological characteristics, such as the type of SES measure, and student
characteristics, such as student’s grade, minority status, and school location, moderated the
magnitude of the relationship between SES and academic achievement.” The relationship is still
clear and strong enough, however, to permit statements such as the following: “Socio-economic
status differences in children’s reading and educational outcomes are ubiquitous, stubbornly
persistent and well documented” ( Aikens and Barbarin, 2008). The relationship between SES
and academic achievement is due to a complex interaction of a number of variables, it appears to
be generally accepted that SES impacts to a considerable extent on various aspects of students’
learning experiences. Meeuwisse, Severiens and Born (2010) examined the interaction of
multiple variables in students’ decisions to withdraw from higher education. They support the
general theme that emerges in all of the studies reviewed herein: The interplay of variables that
characterizes the investigation of SES and aspects of students’ behavior, choices and outcomes is
tremendously complex. The present study was aimed at achieving the following objectives i) To
ascertain academic achievement among male and female students at higher secondary school
level. ii) To ascertain academic achievement among high socio-economic status male and female
students at higher secondary school level. iii) To ascertain academic achievement among low
socio-economic status male and female students at higher secondary school level. iv) To
ascertain academic achievement among high and low socio-economic status male students at
higher secondary school level. v) To ascertain academic achievement among high and low socio-
economic status female students at higher secondary school level. Hypotheses of the study i)
There will be no significant difference between the academic achievement among male and
female students at higher secondary school level. ii) There will be no significant difference
between academic achievement among high socio-economic status male and female students at
higher secondary school level. iii) There will be no significant difference between academic
achievement among low socio-economic status male and female students at higher secondary
school level. iv) There will be no significant difference between academic achievements among
high and low socioeconomic status male students at higher secondary school level. v) There will
be no significant difference between academic achievements in science among high and low
socio-economic status female students at higher secondary school level. Justification of the study
One of the most important outcomes of any educational set up is achievement of the students.
Depending on the level of achievement individuals are characterized as high achievers, average
achievers and low achievers. Many studies indicate that the academic achievement is dependent
on variables like school/college set-up and its organization, socio-economic status of students,
educational aspiration, well adjusted behavior etc. Beside these the personal characters,
vocational aspirations, creativity intelligence, attitude, values, etc also influence it. But socio-
economic status plays a major role. The division of society in to different classes and association
of parents with a certain class and its linked with the education of their children is an all
important feature of our society. The home, as is universally accepted, is the first school of child.
As such, a suitable home environment is most conducive to the spread of education among its
young members. Parent’s socio economic status is an important factor in shaping their attitude
towards encouragement or neglect of education of children. Students belonging to high socio
economic status could get easily all the necessary things which they require for their high
achievement. To realize the democratic ideal of equalizing educational opportunity, it’s
necessary to estimate the extent to which progress in education .i.e academic achievement at
higher secondary school level in Lucknow is being influenced by the socio-Economic variables.
The present investigation, therefore was conducted to fulfill this need and aimed at to explore the
relationship of the socio-economic variables with academic achievement It was assumed that the
conclusions drawn on the basis of the study regarding the relationship between the variables and
their effect on academic achievement might provide necessary guide line for improving the
academic achievement of higher secondary school students.

Theoretical Frame Work

For the purpose of this research, the investment theory and good parent’s theory are reviewed as
theoretical framework for the situation. “Investment theory” Becker and Tomes (1979) in this theory the
relationship between parents and children economic success is the result of biological and other
endowments that parents pass on to their children, combined with what parents invest in their children.
Endowment includes both genetic endowments such as a child’s sex and race, as well as “cultural”
endowments such as values parents place on their children education. Parents invest both time and
money in their children’s “human capital” especially by investing in their education, but also by
purchasing health, good neighbours and other “input” that improve children future well-being. How
much parents invest in their children is determined by their ability to finance investments (which is
influenced by their income and access to capital) the return on investments in children may depend on
children’s biological endowments, so these may also influence their willingness to invest in their
children. According to Becker & Tomes (1979) if those children from [poor family background and those
from the rich family have the same endowments and their parents have the same value and norms, the
former are less likely than the later to succeed because the poor parents cannot afford to buy things
that their children need such as food and medical care, and things that could help their children to get
ahead, such as computers, music lessons and trips to interesting and educational places. Children whose
basic materials need are not met have hard times acquiring the skills that help them succeed, and
children whose parents cannot buy them the “extras” are at a competitive disadvantaged. The relevance
to the investment theory to the study is the fact that the theory deals with the fundamental issues on
how family affects or influences the educational achievement of children such as genetic endowment
which include sex and race, cultural endowment such as the value parent place on their children
education. For instance, sex as one of the generic endowments, some families or societies attached
educational attainment with sex they prefer to invest in boys’ education than the girls. To them
investing in girls education is merely a waste of resources, because eventually girls will get married to
another family elsewhere. While on the other hand, some families invest more on girl’s education with
the belief that he who educates a girl educates the entire society. In this case, any of the two views may
likely affect the educational achievement of the opposite sex. Sex as one of the genetic endowment has
a direct influence on a child educational achievement. The researcher viewed cultural endowment, such
as the value parents placed on their children, some parents even the few privileged parents do not look
at education or investing in their children education as important. Some parents prefer to invest in their
business activities that will yield them quick turnover at the expense of their children future well-being.
Whereas some parents spend their last penny just to ensure that their children acquire the best
education. This may also affect or has a direct influence on a child educational achievement. “Good
parent” theory - propounded by Adams & Singh (1980) holds that low income hurts children not
because poor families have less money to invest in their children, but because low income reduce
parents’ ability to be “good parents”. There are two versions of the theory. The parental stress version
and the role model version. The “parental stress” version which dominates psychology holds that
poverty is stressful and that stress diminishes parents’ ability to be supportive, consistent and involved
in their children education. Poor parenting, in turn hurts the social and emotional development of
children, which limits their education and social opportunities. The role model version emphasized
parents’ interactions with their children but it does not necessarily imply that poor patents are stressed.
Instead, it usually holds that low income parents develop values, norms and behaviours that are
“dysfunctional” for success in the dominant culture. In this case their children in turn adopt their
parents’ dysfunctional behavior; as a result, the children’s own chances of success decline. The parental
stress model, stressed that when parental income increases parental stress declines and parenting skills
improve. In this case both the stress and the role model version of the theory are quite relevant to the
study in the sense that the stressed version deals with psychology, that stressed parents lacks
concentration as a result, their ability to think positively towards their children social and emotional
development decline which will have a serious effect on their children educational outcome. On the
other hand, the role model version also acknowledges the poor family background or parents with low
income develop negative values and norms toward their children academic achievement.