As society becomes ever more complex, the demand arises for a more educated and specialized workforce. The sophistication of today's technology and the speed with which it progresses enable us, to a much further extent, to replace the labors of unskilled workers with computers and machines. This has left the unskilled workforce in a situation where they have to compete for an ever decreasing number of jobs as they are not eligible to compete for more qualified and better paying labor. I will in this paper focus on the unskilled work force which is mainly comprised by individuals of a lower socioeconomic status (SES) and how being an individual of a lower SES influence one's career development. I will specifically look on academic achievement, as it is the main route to more skilled labor, and its impact on later career and income.
Acquiring the academic skills to be doing well in the educational setting has almost become a requisite for successful career development and upward social mobility. Completion of high school, in particular, seems to be important, partly to enable continued education on college level but also to protect against falling victim to the detrimental effects of substance abuse, unemployment, low income, welfare dependency, delinquency and crime (Hathaway et al., 1969, pp. 372-373, 2nd hand citation: Bohart & Stipek, 2001, pp. 291). Also, in a study that set out to investigating the relationship between achieved academic level and income, the researchers found that there was a strong correlation with the higher the academic level one acquires the more financial reward the individual will benefit in form of income (Cesti & Williams, 1997, pp. 1057). This study highlights the fact that education is of the up most importance for an individual's later career and income.
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In theory individuals of low SES has equal opportunity to successfully finish their academic endeavors. However, Stipek (Bohart & Stipek, 2001, pp. 293,296-297) argues that not only do low SES children start out at a disadvantage, having cognitive skills inferior to their higher SES peers, but that this difference exacerbates all throughout their academic career. To explain how this exacerbated difference comes about she argues that children of low SES are less prepared for academics, in regards to cognitive ability, and that this lack of preparedness starts a chain reaction of events that ultimately serves as additional hurdles for the low SES children in their effort to catch up with their higher SES counterparts. Stipek identifies four aspects in the chain of events as specifically important; 1) Consequences of growing up in a low SES environment, 2) Stereotypical educational practices by teachers, 3) Lack of resources in low SES schools, 4) Conduct and motivation of low SES children.
First, although SES has not been shown to have a strong direct effect on academic achievement it is assumed it has a an indirect effect by factors such as parental education, family involvement (White, 1982, pp. 470,474), home environment, number of siblings, stress, expectation and so forth. All of these factors contribute in hindering or slowing down the development of the low SES child which on average is more than a year behind in cognitive ability by the time they start school (Bohart & Stipek, 2001, pp. 297).
Secondly, Stipek argues that teacher's expectations will influence their interaction with the student. If expectations on a particular student are low then the teacher has a tendency to underestimate the student's IQ and in extension academic ability (Alvidrez & Weinstein, 1999, pp. 739) and subsequently giving less challenging and simpler task to the student and ultimately limiting the child's learning opportunities (Bohart & Stipek, 2001, pp. 304). On contrary, some teachers have the tendency to treat students that they expect to possess high academic potential in ways that are more conducive with enhanced learning, further widening the gap between low and high SES children's ability.
Another aspect of teacher-student interaction that Stipek focuses on is ability placement groups and class placement and retention, two activities that both are to the disadvantage of the low SES child. Stipek argues that low SES children are placed in ability groups based on the teacher's judgment, but as previously shown in the Alvidrez & Weinstein study teachers' judgments tend to be bias against low SES children. The problem with these lower ability placement groups, Stipek argues, is that they tend to be highly structured, repetitive and mainly focused on decoding skills rather than be more open, creative and focusing on meaning as it is in the higher ability placement groups. The results are striking, children in the higher ability groups tend to learn significantly more than their lower SES counterparts. Class retention is another praxis which also works to the disadvantage of low SES children. Here again, it is based on the teacher judgment although school administrators also have a say in the matter. There is a heighten probability for low SES children to retained a grade, and grade retention has consistently been shown to predict high school drop-out. Therefore, low SES children are at an increased risk of dropping out of school. Some studies even calculated that the likelihood of a student dropping out after being detained in a class increases with 20-40% (2nd hand citation: Bohart & Stipek, 2001, pp. 306-307).
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Thirdly, low SES children are disproportionately attending poorly resourced schools as compared to other SES children. In extension this means that the schools have greater difficulties in attracting certified teachers to work for them, resulting in less qualified teaching. The teachers that do come to work for these schools report having to spend more time keeping discipline in the class which in reality means loss of actual instruction time. Teachers in these poorly resourced schools also report lacking essential teaching materials, further complicating the educational process (2nd hand citation: Bohart & Stipek, 2001, pp. 300).
Lastly, Stipek argues that not only are low SES children plagued with inferior academic skills but they also have an elevated rate of conduct problems as compared to other SES children. The heighten rate of conduct problem leads to more disciplinary reactions from teachers which in turn can promote the development of negative attitudes towards teacher and school system and may result in more conduct problems or even drop out. This spiral of negative reactions takes away from the learning process and produces a poorer academic performance which is likely to further frustrate the low SES child. Another aspect of the conflictual relationship between student and teacher is its affect on the child's motivation and there is evidence that children of lower academic skills spend less time on academic tasks. Also, if the child's level of self-efficacy is low in regards to a task, he or she is less likely to engage in such an activity (2nd hand citation: Bohart & Stipek, 2001, pp. 301-302, 304).
In conclusion, it has been established that there is a positive correlation between academic achievement and income (Alvidrez & Weinstein, 1999, pp. 739). This means that for an individual to reach a higher position in society, he or she needs to successfully navigate through the school system. However, Stipek argues that children of low SES are already disadvantage from the start and that the way the school system is structured now, hinders rather than help children of low SES to acquire the necessary academic achievements to secure a more qualified job. In acquiring a more qualified job with higher salary children of low SES would subsequently improve on their situation and realize their desired upward social mobility.