Intersectionality: Socioeconomic Status, Race, & Education

One facet of multicultural education is the notion of equity versus equality in educational policies and practices. Federal legislation has attempted to address the inequality of resources and access to education through the passage of legislation such as Brown v. Board of Education (1954), Individuals with Disabilities Act (2004), Race to the Top Fund (2009), and the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (2015). Federal funds and policies influence what happens at the state, district, and school levels. However, despite efforts from policymakers, educators, and the private sector, income and race-based stratification remains as equality only addresses part of the problem. Equity plays an equal and key role in a child’s education (Banks, 2016).

The following video is an interview of Dr. Karl Alexander as he shares the culmination of his 30-year study on the influence of socioeconomic status and race on youth growing up in Baltimore beginning in early 1980s. This longitudinal study began with children enrolled in the 1st grade and followed their progress (and life) until early adulthood. It’s an enlightening video that explains the intersectionality between race, socioeconomic status, and education–all components that comprise a culturally diverse learning environment found in many of our schools today.

Dr. Alexander’s video brings to the forefront the influence of socioeconomic status on student learning. I was first introduced to his work through a short video on the summer slide (e.g., summer learning loss, summer gap) and how summer break disproportionality affected low-income childrens’ (irrespective of race) rate of academic growth when compared to middle class children. The academic and socioeconomic trajectory of children has been found to be based in large part on the socioeconomic status of their home life growing up (Lareau, 2011). And I don’t mean to say that race does not also play a significant role because it does. However, it appears that socioeconomic status has a slight edge in the influence department.

National programs like Head Start and Summer Bridge to local programs such as summer school (remedial) and summer institute (enrichment) seek to provide support to eliminate or reduce summer slide for low-income and/or minority students. Thus, it’s important as educators that we are cognizant and remain vigil of the barriers that prevent our students from achieving their personal best. Though we cannot erase poverty, we can and must provide our students with the appropriate scaffolds and support they need. We need to help bridge the gap between socioeconomic status and student learning.


Banks, J. A. (2016). Cultural diversity and education: Foundations, curriculum, and teaching (6th ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Lareau, A. (2011). Unequal childhoods: Class, race, and family life. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

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