On the first day of kindergarten, poor children are already behind.
But the distance they need to cover to start school on par with richer kids has shortened – in spite of widening economic inequality – according to surprising new research co-authored by Stanford Graduate School of Education (GSE) Professor Sean Reardon.
The study, conducted with Stanford GSE alumna Ximena Portilla, compared the achievement gaps between high- and lower-income children kindergarten in 1998 and 2010 using the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS). It was published Aug. 26 in AERA Open, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association.
Reardon and Portilla found that the gap between high- and lower-income students was 16 percent smaller for reading and 10 percent smaller for math in 2010 compared to 1998.
That the reversal of this trend happened in the 2000s was even more surprising.
“Poor kids in 2010 were living in worse economic circumstances than poor kids in 1998,” said Reardon, a faculty affiliate of the Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis.
Compared to 1998, the parents of low-income children in 2010 were more likely to be unemployed, speak a language other than English, have an education of high school or less, be of Hispanic origin and have been unmarried when the children were born.
And these socioeconomic changes affected poor kids disproportionately – widening economic and social disparities with respect to rich kids. “We expected that things had gotten worse – certainly not that they have gotten better,” Reardon said.
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