School Choice Means Poverty is NOT Destiny

I recently took a quick break from my usual reading Calvin and Hobbes literature to read about some current events.  While doing so, I found an article in the Omaha World-Herald titled “School choice opens up important opportunities for students” that had a great tag line for education choice, “poverty is not destiny.”

This quotation is in reference to the success that low-income vs high-income students tend to have in education. This concept isn’t new, anyone who wants to predict how well a student is going to do in K-12 will consider the students success partially as a function of income. But why is this? Does money equate to intelligence?

Of course not. The reason money is such a consistent predicator of success in education is because it is what we refer to as an endogenous variable. In non-policy nerd terms, money is not the actual cause of intelligence but rather it is correlated with other things that may actually directly influence someone’s educational success. This is a fairly intuitively concept; if you were to hand a student a $100 bill before they walked into the SAT would it affect their performance? No. However, money does influence many factors that in turn influence educational success. Though there are several others, the factor that I would like to concentrate on today is choice.

As noted in the article, money may afford a student the choice to attend a private school or switch neighborhoods to attend a more suitable public school. It is the improved educational models and the opportunity to pursue an education that better fits the student’s needs that increases his success in education, not the literal amount of cash in his pocket. This is why providing these same options to lower-income students through means such as K-12 scholarships to help pay for tuition costs in a private school and having innovative public educational models, such as charter schools, is so important. It is through these methods that we can allow all students choice and soften the influence of money on success in education. Hence, we are closer to a system in which “poverty is not destiny.”