Why do LePage’s school grades correlate with income?

In graphs posted by Mike Tipping, the result is clear: Gov. LePage’s school grades are highly correlated with income.

As Tipping points out, this is expected. It’s exactly what could be predicted by reams of past studies using high-quality data.

Bangor Police Chief Ron Gastia (from left), Bangor Superintendent of Schools Betsy Webb and Penobscot County Sheriff Glen Ross read to students at the Penquis CAP Head Start Center at the Penobscot Job Corps Academy in Bangor on Tuesday, August 28, 2012. Ross, Gastia and Webb were on hand to promote early education programs that cut crime. [BDN photo – Kevin Bennett]

Moreover, as the class structure has become increasingly skewed, test score differences have widened between the classes — even as test scores are rising.

But why does such a correlation exist?

It’s important to know. Understanding this gives the prospect of improving all kids’ educational prospects.

Research points to differences that grow out of different conditions, resources and opportunities by class.

Professor Helen Ladd of Duke University explains:

Disadvantaged children often suffer from poor health and nutrition – which can be corrected by high-quality early childhood and preschool programs. School-based clinics, nurses, and mental health counselors can also help older children.

Early exposure to rich language boosts cognitive development, so we need to help poor parents and other caregivers read to children and engage them in conversations.

Poor families cannot give children the enrichment experiences privileged families routinely provide. Public after-school and summer programs matter most for the poor.

Because of this, Ladd contends, “to be successful, education in impoverished areas must deliver to disadvantaged students the supports and experiences middle-class children usually get at home.”

Cuts in programs like Head Start make this problem worse.

As two top corporate executives recently wrote:

The Institute for a Competitive Workforce, an affiliate of the United States Chamber of Commerce, found in a 2010 report that “for every dollar invested today, savings range from $2.50 to as much as $17 in the years ahead.” Research by the University of Chicago economist James J. Heckman, a Nobel laureate, points to a 7- to 10-percent annual return on investment in high-quality preschool.

Therefore, these two executives contend:

Universally available prekindergarten is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do. Raising lifetime wages (and thereby tax revenues) and reducing the likelihood that children will drop out of school, get involved in crime, and become a burden on the justice system more than make up for the costs of early childhood education.

Other countries have realized this. China reportedly has set a goal of giving 70 percent of all children three years of prekindergarten education — far ahead of the modest one year proposed by President Obama — by the year 2020. Our greatest deficit in this country — the one that most threatens our future as a nation — is our education deficit, not our fiscal one.

We know this in Maine, but policy has been going the wrong direction.

Early childhood education clearly has the backing of Maine’s education commissioner, prominent Maine businesses through the Maine Early Learning Investment Group, police departments, many local governments and agencies and the U.S. Department of Education. Several proposed bills for the 126th Legislature seek to address operations and funding related to early childhood education, but some legislators may still need convincing. Last spring, they cut half of Head Start’s state funding — about 6 percent of its overall funding — resulting in eliminated positions and classrooms. They also cut child care subsidies. [Source]

Those cuts hurt Maine’s kids and Maine’s future.

Putting out grades that show what everyone knew already does nothing.

We know what matters and what works.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.