The Good News About Educational Inequality

August 26, 2016

When inequality is the topic, it can seem as if all the news is bad. Income inequality continues to rise. Economic segregation is growing. Racial gaps in education, employment and health endure. Our society is not particularly fair.

But here is some good news about educational inequality: The enormous gap in academic performance between high- and low-income children has begun to narrow. Children entering kindergarten today are more equally prepared than they were in the late 1990s.

We know this from information collected over the last two decades by the National Center for Education Statistics. In the fall of 1998 and again in 2010, the N.C.E.S. sent early childhood assessors to roughly 1,000 public and private kindergartens across the United States. They sat down one-on-one with 15 to 25 children in each school to measure their reading and math skills. They asked children to identify shapes and colors, to count, to identify letters and to sound out words. They also surveyed parents to learn about the children’s experiences before entering kindergarten.

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CEPA Publications