Ready for kindergarten? Gap between rich and poor narrows, Stanford study finds

August 26, 2016

By Miriam Wasserman

On the first day of kindergarten, poor children are already behind.

But the distance they need to cover to start school on par with richer kids has shortened – in spite of widening economic inequality – according to surprising new research co-authored by Stanford Graduate School of Education Professor Sean Reardon.

The study, conducted with Stanford GSE alumna Ximena Portilla, compared the achievement gaps between high- and lower-income children entering kindergarten in 1998 and 2010 using the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Education's Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS). It was published Aug. 26 inAERA Open, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association.

The ECLS tests early literacy and numeracy to gauge how ready children are for kindergarten: Can they identify letters? Sound out words? Count? Recognize shapes and colors? These skills have grown in importance, as U.S. kindergarten classrooms have become more academically demanding.

Reardon and Portilla found that the gap between high- and lower-income students was 16 percent smaller for reading and 10 percent smaller for math in 2010 compared to 1998.

The gap between rich and poor kids at the start of schooling matters because differences in achievement by income do not change much as children go from kindergarten to higher grades.