Nature or nurture … which is more influential? A recent study on genetics and education illuminates this age-old question and adds to our understanding of how schools can release potential of students no matter what the circumstances of their birth.
The study by Nicholas W. Papageorge and Kevin Thom published by the National Bureau of Economic Research looked at the correlation between genetic endowments and socioeconomic status on educational success.
As The Washington Post reported, it showed that while the genetic distribution of markers associated with educational attainment was evenly distributed across the population, “the least gifted children of high-income parents graduate from college at higher rates than the most gifted children of low-income parents.” In short, our best and brightest born into contexts with limited resources are rarely able to cultivate and contribute their natural-born potential.
Is anyone surprised? I could have told you this when I graduated from my hometown high school and was one of the few to leave for college. Now, there’s scientific proof.
We’ve understood the dimensions of this challenge to our meritocracy for a while. Since the 1966 report titled Equality of Educational Opportunity, known as the Coleman Report, we’ve noted the tight correlation between Zip code and educational attainment.
And more recent developmental science helps us to understand why. Students who are exposed to poverty and adversities such as trauma, experience “toxic stress.” The consequences of toxic stress include impairments in working memory, organizing information, regulating behavior, and forming positive relationships. It can also slow recovery and resilience against physical health problems and mental illness.
Students’ families often don’t know where to turn for help, and if they do, bureaucratic hurdles can be difficult to navigate. Existing health and social services meant to help children may never reach them. Impacts on a child’s development and readiness to learn can be profound.
Many schools have formal and homegrown efforts responding to the impacts of poverty and other adversities on learning. The Universal School Breakfast Program feeds over 14 million students in schools across the country. The Jennings School District in Missouri opened a food pantry, homeless shelter and health clinic for its students. Programs such as Communities In Schools, Community Schools, City Connects, and BARR Center are addressing students’ comprehensive needs by connecting them to community resources.
Read the article in its entirity at The Washington Post.