This study examined whether socioeconomic indicators including wealth, parents' education, parents' occupation, and parents' income predicted the academic outcomes of African Americans and European Americans differently. Using a sample of 1,302 African American and 6,362 European American public high school students drawn from the first- and second-year follow-up of the National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988, the study found that socioeconomic status (SES) accounted for significant variance in the academic achievement of African American students, and that wealth explained variance for students of both ethnicities beyond what was explained by SES alone. Wealth accounts for greater variance in outcomes of African American students than of European American students.
In her presidential address before the American Educational Research Association (AERA) in April 2006, Gloria Ladson-Billings called attention to the relationship between wealth and what she called an "achievement debt" accruing to African Americans over centuries in the United States. Her thesis, supported by a growing body of research (Conley, 1999; Orr, 2003; Shapiro, 2004) and testimony among African American scholars and elders, was that differences in educational outcomes between African American and European American students related to the historical denial of resources-social, intellectual, and financial capital-as a legacy of slavery, Jim Crow policies, and more subtle institutional racism.