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A New Take on 'No Excuses' - Tackling Poverty to Provide Meaningful Opportunity

April 25, 2012

We all know that factors related to poverty can limit learning in a number of ways. Lack of quality early-childhood care and education impedes healthy development and kindergarten readiness. Inadequate access to preventive and basic remedial health care substitute sick days and emergency room visits for classroom time and reduce student awareness and focus in class. Hunger makes it hard for kids to concentrate. And a dearth of enriching, stimulating activities after school and over the summer drains away much of what is gained between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. from September to June.

So-called "no excuses" education reformers distort this fundamental reality by claiming that Broader Bolder advocates and their allies don't believe that poor children can learn. They misrepresent the extensive evidence to suggest that those who understand the struggles wrought by living in poverty believe that parents' bank accounts are the bottom line. They have to engage in such trickery because the link is so logical, no one with common sense would suggest otherwise.

Last week's Capitol Hill briefing by three national experts -- Sean Reardon from Stanford University, Peter Edelman of the Georgetown Law Center, and David Sciarra from the Education Law Center in Newark -- brought the realities of poverty's impact on education into stark relief. Mr. Reardon cited findings from his chapter in the recent Russell Sage compendium Whither Opportunity to demonstrate that our record and growing income gaps, combined with a tattered social safety net, fundamentally threaten the American Dream. Current U.S. education policies compound, rather than alleviate, these massive income disparities, putting equality of opportunity even further out of reach for large numbers of low-income American students.

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CEPA Publications

In this chapter I examine whether and how the relationship between family socioeconomic characteristics and academic achievement has changed during the last fifty years. In particular, I investigate the extent to which the rising income inequality of the last four decades has been paralleled by a similar increase in the income achievement gradient. As the income gap between high- and low-income families has widened, has the achievement gap between children in high- and low-income families also widened?