Just last week we learned that our collective efforts have paid off: researchers from Stanford University, Columbia University and the University of Virginia found that from 1998 to 2010, the school readiness gap between low-income and high-income children shrunk by 10 percent in math and 16 percent in reading. They attributed this narrowing of the school readiness gap to the collective investments our country has made in preschool and the awareness we have brought to low-income parents who may not have previously known the importance of talking, reading and singing to their children from birth to engage their brains during this critical time.
“Because income inequality and segregation have continued to grow, we expected that we would see a continuing or flattening out of the pattern. We certainly didn’t expect to see the gap narrowing over this time period,” says study coauthor Sean Reardon, a professor in the School of Education at Stanford University.
I think the two most likely explanations are improvements in the quality of preschool available to low-income families and more engagement of families across the income distribution, but particularly low-income families, in sort of cognitively enriching activities with their kids.
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.
Given that income inequality in the United States has continued to rise in the 2000s, we expected that the gap in school readiness would also continue to grow, but instead it has narrowed," Sean Reardon, a professor at Stanford University and one of the study's co-authors, said in a statement. "This suggests that the income achievement gap is malleable; it can be reduced.
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.
Researchers Sean F. Reardon of Stanford University and Ximena A. Portilla of the research firm MDRC compared data for nationally representative samples of more than 40,000 children who started kindergarten in 1998, 2006, and 2010. They found that during that period, children from both the poorest 10 percent of families and those from the wealthiest 10 percent of families improved in early-reading and -math assessments--but students in poverty made larger improvements. As a result, poor students closed academic gaps with wealthy peers by 10 percent in early math and 16 percent in early reading.
“It’s not like the lives of the rich and the poor have gotten more equal, so we thought the trend of the widening gap would continue,” said Sean Reardon, a Stanford University professor of poverty and inequality in education. He co-authored the study with Ximena Portilla of MDRC, and it was published in AERA Open, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association.
Most of the action seems to be before kids get to kindergarten. If you can get them to kindergarten on a more even footing there is a much better chance that they are going to stay on that more even footing as they progress through school.
“These are not new trends, but the increase in segregation in the last five years exacerbates the increase in economically polarized communities that has occurred over the last four decades,” Kendra Bischoff and Sean Reardon wrote in their recent study, “The Continuing Increase in Income Segregation, 2007-2012.”