Income and education inequality


by David Safier

An excellent op ed in today's Star is worth a look: Richard Gilman's State leaders turn blind eye to socio-economic factors at 'bad' schools. Since BfA readers have seen this issue covered in my posts, I won't go over the column in detail. Gilman argues, with convincing facts and figures, that state scores for Arizona schools are more the result of the students' socioeconomic status than the quality of administrators, teachers and curriculum (John Huppenthal, are you listening?).

Today's NY Times has a more comprehensive column on the subject written by Sean F. Reardon, a Stanford education and sociology prof: No Rich Child Left Behind. Reardon shows that educational inequality is rising along with income inequality and actually trumps educational inequality due to race. The whole piece deserves a read, but here are some of its major points:

  • "[D]ifferences in educational success between high- and lower-income students have grown substantially . . . about 40% larger than it was 30 years ago."
  • "Before 1980, affluent students had little advantage over middle-class students in academic performance . . . [T]he rich now outperform the middle class by as much as the middle class outperform the poor."
  • Test scores have risen for every socioeconomic group over a generation, but the income/education gap has widened because scores of higher income children have risen more rapidly.
  • "The achievement gaps between blacks and whites, and Hispanic and non-Hispanic whites have been narrowing slowly over the last two decades, trends that actually keep the yawning gap between higher- and lower-income students from getting even wider."
  • School readiness tests taken when children enter kindergarten show the income/education gap is already there before students enter school, meaning schools themselves are not the cause. "[T]his gap grows by less than 10 percent between kindergarten and high school."

The author doesn't see the answer in more testing or school choice or "tough love" to punish schools whose students don't perform well on state tests (John Huppenthal, are you listening?). Schools, he writes, are not the main problem. The author wants to see more time and money spent on early childhood enrichment which will narrow the gap between children entering kindergarten from lower, middle and upper income families.


  1. Job creators ? You’re kidding right ? Maybe you’d better stick with the Peloponnesian War ‘cuz you don’t have a clue about economics.

  2. Welfare children hear millions of fewer words; experience hundreds of thousands more negative corrective and experience hundreds of thousands of fewer positive encouraging words than children from highly effective families.

    Over the last six years we have added millions of children to our welfare populations. We overtax our job creators, we overregulate our job creators and we make the welfare trap far to comfortable.

    Richard Gilman’s column is just a rant. How do you specifically turn it into policy? What specific design changes do you make?

  3. Oh, and I left out the obvious, make preschool more available, and make sure the children’s experiences are educationally enriching in socialization and art/music as well as early literacy and numeracy.

  4. I wish the author had talked more about the need to address and lessen economic inequity. For all I know, he did in a longer piece he wrote (which I haven’t read).

    But meanwhile, I agree with him, things can be done in the short term. Children in poor families need to hear more words addressed to them when they’re young (The differences in the number of words children at different economic levels hear as they grow up are startling). They should be read to more. Parents should ask them questions just for the sake of asking questions (“Oh, what color shirt did you choose today?”) even when the parents know the answer. Research indicates all these increase children’s readiness for school. I don’t know how you go about making those kind of changes, but they can be addressed in the short term while we try to work on income inequality in the long term.

  5. I’d advocate an entirely different solution. Instead of treating the symptom — the performance gap between rich and poor, treat the disease — the ever increasing inequality of income and wealth in America. If we returned to the distribution of wealth and income we had in the ’60s, the gap in educational performance would shrink automatically.

  6. Yes, early childhood development and plenty of physical activity to stimulate the brain. All the research confirms this. Physical skills are definitely correlated to reading skills.