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March 9th, 2012

Research Shows Poverty Creates the Biggest Achievement Gap of All

Jordan Weissmann wrote recently about the poverty gap in the Atlantic — “Occupy Kindergarten: The Rich-Poor Divide Starts With Education”.┬áHere’s an excerpt:

Economic class is increasingly becoming the great dividing line of American education.

The New York Times has published a roundup of recent research showing the growing academic achievement gap between rich and poor students. It prominently features a paper by Stanford professor Sean F. Reardon, which found that, since the 1960s, the difference in test scores between affluent and underprivileged students has grown 40%, and is now twice the gap between black and white students. (Graph courtesy of the Times.)

The children of the wealthy are pulling away from their lower-class peers — the same way their parents are pulling away from their peers’ parents. When it comes to college completion rates, the rich-poor gulf has grown by 50% since the 1980s. Upper income families are also spending vastly more on their children compared to the poor than they did 40 years ago, and spending more time as parents cultivating their intellectual development.

It may not simply be a matter of the rich getting richer, and the poor getting poorer — although that certainly is a part of it. The growing differences in student achievement don’t strictly mimic the way income inequality has skyrocketed since the middle of the 20th century. It’s actually worse than that. Today, there’s a much stronger connection between income and a child’s academic success than in the past. Having money is simply more important than it used to be when it comes to getting a good education. Or, as Reardon puts it, “a dollar of income…appears to buy more academic achievement than it did several decades a ago.”

The complete article is here.

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