Opinion

Chrystia Freeland

Poor little rich kids

Chrystia Freeland
May 9, 2013 19:51 UTC

If you doubt that we live in a winner-take-all economy and that education is the trump card, consider the vast amounts the affluent spend to teach their offspring. We see it anecdotally in the soaring fees for private schools, private lessons and private tutors, many of them targeted at the pre-school set. And recent academic research has confirmed what many of us overhear at the school gates or read on mommy blogs.

This power spending on the children of the economic elite is usually — and rightly — cited as further evidence of the dangers of rising income inequality. Whatever your views about income inequality among the parents, inherited privilege is inimical to the promise of equal opportunity, which is central to the social compact in Western democracies.

But it may be that the less lavishly educated children lower down the income distribution aren’t the only losers. Being groomed for the winner-take-all economy starting in nursery school turns out to exact a toll on the children at the top, too.

First, the data on parental spending on education. There is a lively debate among politicians and professors about whether the economy is becoming more polarized and about the importance of education. Dismissing the value of a college education is one of the more popular clever-sounding contrarian ideas of the moment. And there are still a few die-hards who play down the social significance of rising income inequality.

When you translate these abstract arguments into the practical choices we make in our personal lives, however, the intellectual disagreements melt away. We are all spending a lot more money to educate our kids, and the richest have stepped up their spending more than everyone else.

Don Graham: For-profit school plan hurts poor kids

Chrystia Freeland
Nov 4, 2010 16:21 UTC

Don Graham, Chairman and CEO of the Washington Post Company, visited the Reuters studio this morning to chat with Chrystia about the future of the company’s Kaplan subsidiary as well as its flagship newspaper. In addition to its popular test preparation courses, Kaplan operates 75 colleges and graduate schools, both online and through brick-and-mortar campuses, that serve 112,000 students. Earlier this year the Department of Education lashed out at for-profit colleges like Kaplan for misleading prospective students about tuition costs and salaries after graduation. The Department proposed new regulations on these institutions that would tie federal aid to the number of students who are repaying their loans.

Graham said that while the Department’s efforts to crack down on bad actors are right-minded, the current proposals will end up having an unintentional yet harmful effect on low-income students:

There is a 99% correlation between the number of Pell Grant students—the number of poor students a campus serves—and the repayment rate under the proposed Department rules… The Department has scored a direct hit on schools that serve poor students. They didn’t want to. They didn’t mean to. But that is what they did. And I hope they’ll reconsider that rule and propose something that in fact cracks down on bad actors but does not punish schools that serve poor students.

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