Are Poor Students More Prepared for Kindergarten?

August 26, 2016

By Sarah D. Sparks

For decades, as wealthy parents invested more and more time and money on enrichment for their young children, students in poverty fell further and further behind.

New research, however, suggests that the trend is changing: The children starting their first days of kindergarten may arrive better prepared than prior generations—and students in poverty will arrive at less of a disadvantage compared with their wealthier peers. Income and racial gaps in school readiness closed significantly between 1998 and 2010, according to studies in a special issue of AERA Open, a journal of the American Educational Research Association.

Researchers Sean F. Reardon of Stanford University and Ximena A. Portilla of the research firm MDRC compared data for nationally representative samples of more than 40,000 children who started kindergarten in 1998, 2006, and 2010. They found that during that period, children from both the poorest 10 percent of families and those from the wealthiest 10 percent of families improved in early-reading and -math assessments--but students in poverty made larger improvements. As a result, poor students closed academic gaps with wealthy peers by 10 percent in early math and 16 percent in early reading.

"I think what's surprising is that the income gap has narrowed ... when some of the underlying conditions--growing income equality and residential segregation--have continued unabated," Reardon said.

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