In a commentary on the New York Times’ fascinating online series on inequality, “The Great Divide,” Stanford professor Sean Reardon argues that much of the educational achievement gap in the U.S. comes not simply from a difference between the quality of rich and poor schools. He says the biggest difference is how much rich families are spending on the academic development of their kids.
Reardon says test scores for the poorest students aren’t dropping. Test scores for the richest students have risen dramatically. “Before 1980,” he writes, “affluent students had little advantage over middle-class students in academic performance; most of the socioeconomic disparity in academics was between the middle class and the poor. But the rich now outperform the middle class by as much as the middle class outperform the poor.”
He says it boils down to this: “The academic gap is widening because rich students are increasingly entering kindergarten much better prepared to succeed in school than middle-class students. This difference in preparation persists through elementary and high school.”
And he says it’s not just that the rich have more money than they used to. It’s how they use it:
“High-income families are increasingly focusing their resources — their money, time and knowledge of what it takes to be successful in school — on their children’s cognitive development and educational success. They are doing this because educational success is much more important than it used to be, even for the rich.”
In several earlier stories, we’ve focused on arguments educators are making on what schools can do to close the achievement gap, like this story on early childhood literacy, this one on Brookside Elementary School in Norwalk and this one on half-day kindergarten. Reardon argues here that “improving the quality of our parenting and of four children’s earliest environments may be even more important.” And he points to programs and policies like maternity and paternity leave that he says could lead to that goal.
Read Reardon’s full story here.
Connecticut’s legislative appropriations subcommittee approved two bills Tuesday related to economic disparity issues – one that would raise the minimum wage, and another that takes steps toward creating a state retirement plan for low income workers.
Hear about both bills here:
The first bill would raise the minimum wage from $8.25 to $9 an hour over the next year and possibly to $9.75 the following year. Democratic State Representative Beth Bye of West Hartford says in the past she voted against raising the minimum wage. But now she says workers need it more than ever:
“What we’re seeing is this widening income disparity, in our state and in our country,” said Bye. “For people who are working full time I think we need to offer this as a way to help them to buy food and afford housing”
State Representative Mitch Bolinsky, a Newtown Republican, says the bill would prevent companies from hiring new employees, particularly teenagers. “The unemployment rate for that class of individual is three times higher than the state rate I see this as a job killing bill and a reason to have more kids on the street with nothing to do this summer,” said Bolinsky.
The bill is different from what Governor Dannel Malloy has proposed, which is to raise the minimum wage by 75 cents over the next two years. The committee bill still needs to be taken up by the House and Senate.
Also, the Appropriations Committee approved a bill that would require an initial feasibility study of a state administered retirement plan for low income workers. It made it through the committee on a mainly party line vote on Tuesday. Representative Jason Perillo of Shelton was one of a number of Republican members of the committee who voted against the bill. Perillo says there are plenty of private firms available to administer retirement plans for low income workers. The bill requires the Connecticut Retirement Security Trust Fund Board to set-up a low income workers fund, if the market feasibility study finds that such a fund would be self-sustaining. The bill heads to the Senate for further action.
In a recent article in the New York Times, Adam Davidson the creator of NPR and This American Life’s “Planet Money” podcast and blog, described the economic diversity in Greenwich. While the town is mostly known for it’s remarkable wealth, it also has a sizable population of working class people. Nearly 4 percent live below the federal poverty line. Although it’s a town with expensive housing, the draw for many is the schools. And, Davidson writes, studies have shown that low income students ido better in wealthy schools than in poor ones. He writes about Greenwich High School:
“Around 13 percent of the school’s students receive free or discounted lunches, a commonly used proxy for low income. And more than three-quarters of those students scored at or above proficiency on the most recent statewide 10th-grade performance tests. At nearby Stamford High School, where nearly 70 percent of students are on the lunch program, almost half the students failed to meet proficiency levels.”
Davidson spoke with Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, who says about 10 percent of all students in the country are in districts that have some kind of economic-integration policy.
“The remarkable thing about economic integration, Kahlenberg says, is that it seems to improve outcomes for the poor without diminishing educational attainment among the rich. Christopher Winters, headmaster of Greenwich High School, says that the greater diversity of the population makes for a better educational experience for all students. The low-income population has nearly doubled in the past seven years at Greenwich High, and no parent, he said, has complained.”
Recently a national anti-hunger advocacy group ranked Connecticut as the 6th best state for access to affordable and nutritious food—what’s also called community food security. But a study released Wednesday by UConn’s Zwick Center for Food and Resource Policy shows that things are pretty tough in some areas.
You can hear Will Stone’s report on food insecurity here:
1 in 6 children in New London County is food insecure. That means they and their families don’t have reliable access to affordable food for a number of reasons—transportation, education, geography and income, all play a role.
It’s not all about economic disparity for this issue. The per capita income in the city of New London is $21,000, while neighboring Stonington is almost twice that. But the report shows Stonington still has a higher than average risk of food insecurity.
“Every town in the county has an at-risk population,” says Mary Gates, who’s been conducting focus groups on food insecurity for the New London Food Policy Council. “I want to make sure that people don’t look at Stonington or Mystic and say there can’t be hungry people there.”
NAACP members in greater New Haven are calling on the federal and state government to re-examine the disparities between low-income people of color in urban neighborhoods and white people in the suburbs. The report, called “Urban Apartheid,” looks at disparities in areas like education, income, and housing.
You can hear Will Stone’s story on the report here:
NAACP Chapter President James Rawlings says the findings show that place matters. He means neighborhoods in and around New Haven where, for example, the poor are six times less likely to have access to transportation, which in turn affects their chances of employment. A quarter of African American men in the region were unemployed in 2011. Rawlings says it all comes back to the educational achievement gap, and he says the key is removing children from what he calls “unhealthy communities.”
“The transportation system isn’t there to support the children, libraries are not there to support the child, the family wrap-around services are not there to support the child,” he says.
The NAACP is recommending that affordable housing be placed in more suburban communities, where the air is cleaner and there’s less crime.
Listen to Craig LeMoult’s story about the school here:
Brookside’s not a wealthy school. 61% of kids at the school get free or reduced price lunch based on their family incomes. About 60% of the students in the school are Hispanic, and many of their parents don’t speak English. A lot of the kids don’t have any pre-schooling before they show up for kindergarten. A recent test showed that about 38% of kids walking in the Brookside Kindergarten door didn’t have the necessary basic skills – like knowing the alphabet and recognizing shapes.
As a result of the budget crunch, the school has lost it’s full-time literacy specialist and the library is closed every other week. But Brookside Principal David Hay says it’s not an excuse.
“That’s the first thing you’ve got to accept, that you can’t say ‘because we don’t have this, we won’t be able to do something with the children,” says Hay. “You got to recognize it, it’s not going to change. Income is probably the biggest thing, because kids don’t have experiences, resources, that a lot of the wealthier kids have. So we have to try to get those for them any way we can.”
A report in The Atlantic this week about a study by the think tank Third Way shows the income gap in college attendance and graduation rates. The following chart shows the percentage graduating college, based on what economic quartile they’re in. And it compares the oldest Millennial generation (red line) with the youngest Baby Boomers (dotted line).
Basically, according to the study, not only are poor students far less likely to go to college, they’re far more likely to drop out, leaving them with crippling debt.
A new study by the Brookings Institution says that the rise in inequality in the U.S. comes from significant changes in income over time. Co-author Bradley Heim told the Huffington Post, “it’s not that the rich will stay rich and the poor will stay poor, but that they are relatively less likely to switch positions than they were before.” HuffPo reports that according to the Economic Policy Institute, “the incomes of the top 1 percent of households spiked 241 percent between 1979 and 2007, while the incomes of the middle fifth grew just 19 percent, when adjusted for inflation.”
The Brookings study also suggests increasing federal taxes on the rich only modestly reduces inequality.
Here’s Will Stone’s story on Kingsbury Elementary School in Waterbury:
In 2011, the difference in reading between low-income fourth graders and their wealthier peers in the state was 35 points. And that same margin exists between white students and Hispanic and African-American students. But at Kingsbury Elementary, the picture is much different.
“Right now there is very small very small gap between the Hispanic white and black population,” says Principal Pamela Baim. “If you’re looking at every child and their need, the disparity should be very small, and that’s what we’re finding here.”
The school places students in tiers according to very specific criteria, such as oral fluency, and transition students to more challenging tiers as they show improvement. Teachers also spend hours training with the school’s team of reading specialists. They rely heavily on data and diagnostic tests, using a tiered system, and addressing literacy across the curriculum. And they say it’s helping closing the gap.
Some social service workers say they’re seeing more people coming to them for help who used to be on the rich end of Connecticut’s economic spectrum. That’s the case for Ken Mathis, who used to live in a 5,500 square foot house in New Canaan when he was partner at a number of top business consulting firms and technology companies. Today, he gets by with the help of food stamps and Medicaid. Here’s his story:
Have you seen similar stories of people’s path down Connecticut’s steep economic ladder? Let us know. What does their experience say about the state’s economic disparity? Coming up soon on “State of Disparity,” we’ll share stories of people at the bottom, trying to work their way up that ladder.