The suburban band members’ uniforms were brand new, Spencer noticed—not passed down and worn-out like hers. So were their instruments, unlike the scratched and tarnished castoffs her school loaned her and her bandmates, including the secondhand flute she played.
“Everyone knows they’re treated differently,” said the soft-spoken Spencer, 19, who was left homeless when her mother died but continued taking herself to school and is now entering her sophomore year in college.
It’s not that those students have been getting smarter. Even as their grades were rising, their scores on the SAT college-entrance exam went down, not up. It’s that grade inflation is accelerating in the schools attended by higher-income Americans, who are also much more likely than their lower-income peers to be white, the research, by the College Board, found. This widens their lead in life over students in urban public schools, who are generally racial and ethnic minorities and from families that are far less well-off.
“This is just another systemic disadvantage that we put in front of low-income kids and kids of color,” said Andrew Nichols, the director of higher-education research at The Education Trust, a nonprofit advocacy organization. Nichols was not involved in the research.