NY Times: “No rich child left behind”

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.

Leave a Reply