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Study Shows Education Gap Between Rich And Poor Is Growing

February 13, 2012

Parent helping child with homeworkAccording to new research, your bank statements may be an indicator of how well your child will do in school.

The New York Times reported that recently published long-term analyses of academic achievement by income indicates that the gap between rich and poor children has grown substantially in the last four decades, and is now twice as large as the gap between black and white students.

"We have moved from a society in the 1950s and 1960s, in which race was more consequential than family income, to one today in which family income appears more determinative of educational success than race," said Sean F. Reardon, a Stanford University sociologist who authored a study showing that the gap between standardized test scores between affluent and low-income students have grown by about 40 percent since the 1960s.

This divide begins very early and continues throughout students' academic careers and beyond. According to another study cited by The New York Times -- this time from the University of Michigan -- the chasm between rich and poor children in terms of college completion has grown by 50 percent in the last two decades. According to the study, this statistic is the most important predictor of success in the workforce.

While the studies do not pinpoint one single contributor to this widening gap, The Atlantic suggested that it begins in pre-school: well-off parents are more likely (and able) to invest in a child's early education than low-income parents.

One study found that upper-income kindergartners begin school with 400 more hours of "literacy activities" under their belt than lower-income children. Another study cited by The New York Times found that in 1972, Americans at the upper end of the income spectrum were spending five times as much per child as low-income families. By 2007, spending by upper-income families more than doubled while spending by low-income families grew by just 20 percent.

Why does it matter? The Huffington Post reported that a plethora of studies -- including research conducted by McKinsey and The Brookings Institute -- show that parents' educational investments for the nation's preschool-age children are linked to both economic and cultural security.

Whatever the trend's root cause, it is unlikely, given the economy, that a solution to the achievement gap problem will be available any time soon, but the government is working to minimize the damage. According to The Huffington Post, President Barack Obama recently granted waivers to 10 states facing massive education budget cuts and school closures, punitive measures for failing to meet goals set under the No Child Left Behind Act.

"This decision, coupled with major new investments in early childhood education, including in the President's new 2013 budget, are putting us on a more solid path toward a better educated America," said Mark Shriver, vice president for Save the Children's U.S. Programs, in The Huffington Post editorial. "Achieving that goal will finally help tackle a serious poverty and education crisis that threatens our future."


Compiled by Aimee Hosler

Sources:

"Education Gap Grows Between Rich and Poor, Studies Say," nytimes.com, February 9, 2012, Sabrina Tavernise

"Obama Shifts Forward as Education Gap Widens," huffingtonpost.com, February 13, 2012, Mark Shriver

"Occupy Kindergarten: The Rich-Poor Divide Starts With Education," theatlantic.com, February 11, 2012, Jordan Weissman

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