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Shocker: Study Finds That Low-Income Students Tend To Have Less Agency Than Those Coming From Higher-Income Families

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Though the big headline of this new study is similar to “Water Is Wet” – “The higher a child’s family income, the more likely he or she is to feel control over their life, according to a new Portland State University study” – I did find its opening interesting:

People with more external locus of control attribute life outcomes to forces external to themselves, such as fate, destiny, or powerful others, while people with more internal control feel responsible for their successes and failures (Ross and Mirowsky 2013). An extensive previous literature documents that the more external control of youth with low socioeconomic status (SES) leads to poorer behavioral and educational outcomes (Pals et al. 2016; Suh and Suh 2006). With adolescence characterized by identity development and changes in social relations (Falci 2011), the negative effects of external locus of control in adolescence endure into adulthood (Kiviruusu et al. 2013). Decisions during adolescence reverberate through the life course such that greater external control in disadvantaged youth may contribute to the reproduction of their disadvantage.

And I loved this line near its end:

If low SES youth face objectively more barriers than higher SES youth, their perceptions that their life is not entirely within their own control is an accurate perception.

I think this kind of research reinforces two actions we teachers must continue to take:

* Pro-actively use instructional strategies that promote a sense of student agency in the classroom and broader school institution (see The Best Resources On Student Agency & How To Encourage It).

* Assist students to become aware of many of the causes of their socioeconomic status and strategies to change it (see A Compilation Of Resources To Support Student Organizing).

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

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