Monday, April 16, 2012

The education achievement gap and income. . . .

Sean Reardon has done the nationwide research on the extent to which the achievement gap in education has widened based on differences in income.

Here's the abstract (with some key points highlighted):

In this chapter I examine whether and how the relationship between family socioeconomic characteristics and academic achievement has changed during the last fifty years. In particular, I investigate the extent to which the rising income inequality of the last four decades has been paralleled by a similar increase in the income achievement gradient. As the income gap between high- and low-income families has widened, has the achievement gap between children in high- and low-income families also widened?
The answer, in brief, is yes. The achievement gap between children from high- and low-income families is roughly 30 to 40 percent larger among children born in 2001 than among those born twenty-five years earlier. In fact, it appears that the income achievement gap has been growing for at least fifty years, though the data are less certain for cohorts of children born before 1970. In this chapter, I describe and discuss these trends in some detail. In addition to the key finding that the income achievement gap appears to have widened substantially, there are a number of other important findings.
First, the income achievement gap (defined here as the income difference between a child from a family at the 90th percentile of the family income distribution and a child from a family at the 10th percentile) is now nearly twice as large as the black-white achievement gap. Fifty years ago, in contrast, the black-white gap was one and a half to two times as large as the income gap. Second, as Greg Duncan and Katherine Magnuson note in chapter 3 of this volume, the income achievement gap is large when children enter kindergarten and does not appear to grow (or narrow) appreciably as children progress through school. Third, although rising income inequality may play a role in the growing income achievement gap, it does not appear to be the dominant factor. The gap appears to have grown at least partly because of an increase in the association between family income and children’s academic achievement for families above the median income level: a given difference in family incomes now corresponds to a 30 to 60 percent larger difference in achievement than it did for children born in the 1970s. Moreover, evidence from other studies suggests that this may be in part a result of increasing parental investment in children’s cognitive development. Finally, the growing income achievement gap does not appear to be a result of a growing achievement gap between children with highly and less-educated parents. Indeed, the relationship between parental education and children’s achievement has remained relatively stable during the last fifty years, whereas the relationship between income and achievement has grown sharply. Family income is now nearly as strong as parental education in predicting children’s achievement.

This raises an interesting question for Delaware, because the income-based achievement gap has clearing been growing for 50 years.

So has charter/choice in Delaware (a) speeded that growth; (b) slowed that growth; or (c) had no effect on a much larger pre-existing trend?

Answer:  we don't know, and most opinions you will see expressed locally are based on anecdote and ideology rather than data analysis.


Ed Diagnostician said...

any discussion of achievement gap must contain a discussion of this treatise.

Anonymous said...


As I was reading your post I was thinking of the ever shrinking Catholic schools. Catholic schools used to be the middle class road to a good education. This was your way out of a poor public school feeder pattern. With more and more of these schools closing, this can only widen the education gap.

I am an advocate of Charter schools (and an even biggger advocate of School Vouchers) but my impression of Wilmington Charter (on a visit with my children) was a place for smart kids to be "safe". I was not really impressed with the school. Smart kids in, smart kids out.

Finally, welcome back.

John Galt

Steven H. Newton said...


My observation (my twins are at CSW) is that the two greatest strengths of charter are

1--that being "Smart" and working hard are considered virtues by all your peers, and nobody is at all embarassed about doing really well at something. This is often not the case in traditional high schools.

2--that the students themselves raise the bar for each other, and they raise it (due to their concentration) to levels they might otherwise never think to challenge.

pandora said...

"So has charter/choice in Delaware (a) speeded that growth; (b) slowed that growth; or (c) had no effect on a much larger pre-existing trend?"

No, we don't know, but I think we really need to look into all of this.

My gut reaction... this problem has always existed. Charter, Choice and Neighborhood Schools just makes it more obvious by creating schools defined by poverty.

And maybe it's not a bad thing that these schools have forced us to see what has previously been hidden/buried.