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For decades, educational researchers, educational practitioners, and the public at large have assumed that socioeconomic status (SES) is one of the best predictors of academic achievement. The Coleman report supported that theory. As explained by Karl White (1982), the Coleman report confirmed for educators what they thought they already knew: “that a strong relationship exists between all kinds of achievement variables and what has come to be known as socioeconomic status (SES)” (p. 46). White also notes that the belief in the strong relationship between SES and student achievement is so pervasive that it has rarely been questioned. To illustrate, consider the following quotes:
The family characteristic that is the most powerful predictor of school performance is socioeconomic status (SES): the higher the SES of the student's family, the higher his academic achievement. This relationship has been documented in countless studies and seems to hold no matter what measure of status is used (occupation of principal bread-winner, family income, parents' education, or some combination of these). (Boocock, 1972, p. 32)
To categorize youth according to the social class position of their parents is to order them on the extent of their participation and degree of success in the American Educational System.This has been so consistently confirmed by research that it can now be regarded as an empirical law....SES predicts grades, achievement and intelligence test scores, retentions at grade level, course failures, truancy, suspensions from school, high school dropouts, plans for college attendance, and total amount of formal schooling. (Charters, 1963, pp. 739–740)
The positive association between school completion, family socioeconomic status, and measured ability is well known. (Welch, 1974, p. 32)
In spite of previous testimonials to the strength of relationship between SES and student achievement, the actual research findings vary widely. Specifically, White notes correlations between SES and student achievement that are as high as 0.80 and as low as 0.10.