Continuing on my previous post, I am banking on another key insight from Malcolm Gladwell as an inspiration for this post. In his book, Outliers, Gladwell brings out another important insight on the impact vacation has on the performance of school children from low-income population in the US.
Karl Alexander, a sociologist from the John Hopkins University, had tracked the progress of 650 first grade children from the Baltimore public school system, on how they performed in the California Achievement Test. The test results were broken down by socioeconomic class – low, middle, and high and were recorded for five years starting with the first grade all the way to the fifth grade. Students from all three socioeconomic classes start off in the first grade with relatively no difference in their knowledge and abilities. However, four years later, the achievement gap between the poor and the rich was twice as much!
The popular misconception is that the poor children somehow don’t have the same ability as their wealthy counterparts or that the teachers have somehow failed in their jobs. However, further probing by Alexander revealed something that is startling.
It so happened that the city of Baltimore administered these tests once at the beginning of the school year and once again at the end of the school year in the following June. This allowed Alexander to measure the gains made by the children during the school year. The result of this analysis was that the children from the low-income group actually outperformed the high income group!!! So then why do we have this drop in performance at the end of the 5th grade?
The answer lies in what happens during the annual vacation between school years. The changes in score during summer vacation seem to hold the answer. The wealthier kids score significantly more and their learning gains seems to be much more than that of the poor children during vacations, thereby accounting for the overall achievement gap at the end of 5 years.
During vacations, rich parents make sure their kids are occupied with books, special classes, and meaningful activities that are geared towards their education. On the other hand, poor children are left to fend for themselves. Parents from the lower-income group don’t have the interest or the resources to keep their children on the learning track during vacations thereby hurting their chances as they grow older. So what’s the possible solution? Please watch this two-part video on KIPP Academy and how they are making a difference to low-income children. The cornerstone of KIPP academies is the emphasis on innovative teaching practices, discipline and hard work. The extra time that children spend on learning helps them a lot and completely erases any disadvantages they face because of socioeconomic status.