Widening Achievement Gap Between Rich and Poor Students

Is the academic achievement gap widening between the children of the poor and the children of the more affluent? Stanford professor Sean F. Reardon thinks so. Last year he penned a New York Times article summarizing his research on this question. He uses the following example to get across the magnitude of the achievement gap that has occurred:


To make this tend concrete, consider two children, one from a family with income of $165,000 and one from a family with income of $15,000, These incomes are at the 90th and 10th percentile of the income distribution nationally, meaning that 10 percent of children today grow up in families with incomes below $15,000 and 10 percent grow up in families with incomes above $165,000.


In the 1980’s, on an 800-point SAT type test scale, the average difference in test scores between two such children would have been about 90 points; today it is 125 points. This is almost twice as large as the 70-point test score gap between white and black children. Family income is now a better predictor of children’s success in school than race.


During the last 40 years income inequality has grown, but Reardon thinks the biggest difference may be in how the wealthy are more deeply investing in their children’s education even before they get to school. Parents of all income backgrounds are more aware of the importance of early childhood education but wealthier parents have more time and resources to commit to their young child’s development. As a result, according to Reardon, “the rich now outperform the middle-class by as much as the middle-class outperform the poor.”


The study– The Widening Academic Achievement Gap Between the Rich and Poor: New Evidence and Possible Explanations – underscores other studies, such as those by Annette Lareau (1989, 2003), which suggest that more affluent parents engage in “concerted cultivation” by organizing early learning experiences for their child.

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