The ‘New Rich’: A New Conservatism in U.S. Education?

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

Here’s a statistic and thought from Hope Yen that ought to interest anyone who’s made the connection between poverty and educational achievement: “Fully 20 percent of U.S. adults become rich for parts of their lives, wielding outsize influence on America’s economy and politics. This little-known group may pose the biggest barrier to reducing the nation’s income inequality” (“Rising Riches: 1 in 5 in U.S. Reaches Affluence,” AP/USA Today, 12/6/13).

This massive wall of nouveau riche are, according to Yen, “much more fiscally conservative than other Americans, polling suggests, and less likely to support public programs, such as food stamps or early public education, to help the disadvantaged.”

For the 20%, success may breed contempt — contempt for those who can’t work their way out of poverty. An intriguing question involves the relationship between this hardscrabble group and the nation’s growing affinity for standardized tests. Are the new rich more inclined to support national and international testing? And, more importantly, why?

One of the new rich interviewed by Yen says that much of her income goes toward putting her children through college. She is probably representative of a 20% mindset that views testing and high test scores as the entry pass to degrees and economic success. The tests are a means to an end, and the end is separation, separation from the have-nots.

In this scenario, education begins to mirror the gated communities that attract the new rich, and high scores are passes into our nation’s gated schools and colleges. You want entry? Fine. Score well on standardized tests.

But the real victims are the children and youth who are born into poverty. Theoretically, they can study their way out of their circumstances, but the deck is stacked against them from day one. Ironically, the few who do make it out often become the new gatekeepers of privilege, chanting the mantra, “If I can do it, so can you.”

If the new rich are the force behind the testing movement and if the reason is to maintain and even exaggerate the income divide, then the question is what can be done to reverse this trend or somehow close the gap.

I don’t think there are any easy answers. In fact, as a nation, we may find the premise behind this question embarrassing, exposing an instinct that is more self-serving than charitable.

One Response

  1. Wow! Never occurred to me. High-stakes testing as the bulwark of the new rich to shield their children from inadequate education and ensure them a place among the nation’s elite regardless of merit. The underlying assumption is that you can buy your way to success on these tests by going to the right schools (private or wealthy-community public) and using other paid means to advance their scores.

    The top tier colleges should stop using these tests as guidelines for admission, but what will they use instead? What can they use that cannot be bought? Tough question.

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