A widening achievement gap separates children from high-income (90th percentile) and very low-income (10th percentile) families, concludes a report by Sean Reardon, a Stanford education professor.
The income achievement gap, which appears to have been increasing for the last 50 years, is now nearly twice as large as the black-white achievement gap. It starts in kindergarten and stays about the same as children move through school.
Poor children are doing a bit better academically than in the past, but falling farther behind children from affluent families. Parents who can afford it are investing in their children’s “cognitive development.”
Wealthy parents’ children are improving their academic edge, Reardon told EdSource.
When you look at poor 4th graders today they are doing better than poor 4th graders 30 years ago. But rich 4th graders are doing much, much better than rich 4th graders (over the same time period). Most of the growth has been because kids at the high end of the family income distribution level have pulled away from middle income kids, not because kids at the low end have fallen away from middle income kids.
Race isn’t a factor. “The achievement gap between rich and poor whites has gotten bigger over time,” he said.
The income gap between the richest and poorest families has grown over the past 40 years, Reardon says.
Income inequality has led to more residential segregation by income level rather than race, which in turns means that high income children have access to higher quality schools and other resources.
The Widening Achievement Gap Between the Rich and the Poor was published in September 2011 in Whither Opportunity? Rising Inequality, Schools, and Children’s Life Chances.
Stuart Buck suggests an experiment to see if family income leads to achievement via better teachers. Assign 250 rich kids to schools with horrible teachers and another 250 to their regular schools. He foresees implementation problems, however.