Analysis: More Minnesota students relying on free and reduced lunches. So should schools focus their resources on the racial achievement gap or the income gap? Stanford University sociologist Sean Reardon would argue for the income gap. "We've focused a lot on race and I think it's important to keep paying attention to, but I would like to see us increase the amount of attention we're paying to the socio-economic achievement gaps because they're big, they're growing, and they have huge implications for the future workforce and the health of the economy," he said.
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.
For the last 50 years, test scores between high-income and low-income children has grown by about 40 percent, according to a study published last year by Sean Reardon, associate professor of education at Stanford University. That gap is nearly twice the size of the achievement gap by student ethnicity, Reardon found.
Education was historically considered a great equalizer in American society, capable of lifting less advantaged children and improving their chances for success as adults. But a body of recently published scholarship suggests that the achievement gap between rich and poor children is widening, a development that threatens to dilute education’s leveling effects.
Education has long been the primary pathway to social mobility in the United States. The American Dream—the idea that one’s family origin is no barrier to economic success—is plausible to the extent that we believe that our schools provide all students with equal opportunity to develop skills that will enable them to succeed in our complex society. Without such opportunity, hope for social mobility dims.
So when we ask whether America is becoming more or less equal, we should ask not only whether income and political power are becoming more unequally distributed (they are), but also whether the opportunity for social mobility is declining. We should ask whether children from all backgrounds have equal opportunities to
Sean Reardon, Associate Professor of Sociology at Stanford University says the growing divide between rich and poor in the U.S. will polarize the political process. He adds the Occupy Wall Street protests are an example of this process.
As overall income inequality grew in the last four decades, high- and low-income families have become increasingly less likely to live near one another. Mixed income neighborhoods have grown rarer, while affluent and poor neighborhoods have grown much more common. In fact, the share of the population in large and moderate-sized metropolitan areas who live in the poorest and most affluent neighborhoods has more than doubled since 1970, while the share of families living in middle-income neighborhoods dropped from 65 percent to 44 percent.
The widening gaps between Americans of average wealth and well-off Americans, and especially, super-well-off Americans over the last 40 years have now been fully documented and heavily discussed. But it’s not just about money. We are seeing, as well, growing economic, social, geographical, and cultural divisions between Americans of less and more education. Now, Sean Reardon of the Stanford School of Education has described another way that these two developments have increasingly combined to widen social class differences. More and more over the last four decades, affluent parents have leveraged their financial assets into better academic skills for their children. Having those greater skills, in turn, gives their kids an even larger head start in the race for higher education and its financial payoff.