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.
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.
“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.”
"I think we like to think, 'Here we have this problem, but it's fixable. We know we could figure it out.' It's not clear we've figured it out," said Reardon, a professor of poverty and inequality in education at Stanford. "There's some deep ... problems that we as a society haven't faced up to yet."
Sean Reardon, the author of the Stanford study—”The Geography of Racial/Ethnic Test Score Gaps”—noted that Lexington is among the richest communities in the nation.
Just below Lexington on the chart are other wealthy Massachusetts suburbs—including Belmont, Boxborough, Carlisle, Concord, Newton, Shrewsbury, Sudbury and Wincester—all of which achieve more than three grades above the national average.
“On average, school districts in Massachusetts, whether they’re poor or middle class or affluent, tend to do better than similar school districts around the country in terms of test scores,” he said.