Despite Growing Income Inequality, Learning Gaps Between Rich And Poor Kids Are Actually Closing

August 26, 2016

By Rebecca Klein

In a country where the earnings and lifestyles of the richest and poorest citizens are increasingly disparate, education researchers are offering up a rare piece of good news: Despite a societal backdrop of widening income inequality, kids on opposite ends of the wealth spectrum are now entering kindergarten with closer levels of achievement than in the past, new research finds.

Two new studies out Friday in a journal of the American Educational Research Association illuminate this issue. The first looks at school readiness measures for kindergarten students, and finds that low-income students are coming to school with skills that more closely match those of their high-income peers than in previous decades.

The second study looks at parental involvement in children’s lives, and offers a potential explanation for why the kindergarten readiness gap might be narrowing. It finds that across the board, parents are playing a more hands-on role in the educational experiences of their young children.

A co-author of both studies, Stanford University’s Sean Reardon, said the results are surprising, but welcomed. During the mid-1970s through mid-1990s, the academic achievement gap for poor and rich children entering school grew substantially. The new study shows this gap closing by 10 to 16 percent between 1998 and 2010.