Comparatively, Princeton is an extremely affluent area. Our average per capita income, according to the US Census Bureau, is $63,500, three times greater than the nation’s average. Unfortunately, however, this is not reality for many Princetonians. While statistically speaking 8.7 percent of the population lives below the line of poverty here, almost 100 percent of those who are in poverty are members of a family unit with children. With the rising poverty levels, Princeton is becoming increasingly classist, leaving those who are poorer subject to socioeconomic prejudice.
Students in Princeton, just like those at any other elite high school, live and breathe college, and with it, stress. There’s an immense pressure to do well on standardized testing like APs, SATs, and ACTs. So, in a town that so greatly stresses academic excellence, why is our achievement gap so big?
Standardized achievement tests have been known to advantage wealthier students, while rights groups recently filed a complaint with the US Department of Education, stating that black and Latino students score consistently lower than whites and Asians on standardized testing. Achievement gaps are often perpetuated by racism — both unintended and overt.
But the main factor that further widens Princeton’s achievement gap is the gap between the wealthy and poor. It’s a common phenomenon at PHS. Those who can afford it get expensive AP and SAT tutors, loads of prep books, and SAT or ACT boot camps, leaving poorer students in the dust. With a whopping 58 percent of students at PHS participating in at least one AP course, there just leaves more room for the achievement gap to widen. The majority of students who take those courses, ourselves included, struggle with the “college level” courses. But at the end of the day, what does a “college level” course require? Most of the time this means getting a tutor and buying review books at the end of the year in hopes of salvaging your grade and cramming for that AP test when May rolls around. But the reality for many is that they can’t afford the tutor, nor the Barron’s or Princeton Review books at the end of the year. They continue to struggle — and sometimes fail — allowing richer students to gain the upper hand.
While there is no prerequisite to attend PHS, the high school mirrors the university in more ways than necessary. It seems as though we are expected to perform at the same caliber despite the obvious difference in age, maturity, and tenacity. The high school has adopted the same cut-throat atmosphere — one oozing with teenage stress. Students strive for perfection and push others down to reach the top, all in hopes of getting into a top university.
Maybe it’s the competitive nature of PHS, maybe it’s the fact that we operate across the street from a prestigious university, or maybe it’s just the spirit of the students here at PHS, but for whatever reason, AP classes are a golden ticket. And while the coveted schedule with four or five AP classes may never fade from our culture, we ought to seek out ways to narrow this achievement gap, mitigating socioeconomic inequality.