Surprising reversal: School readiness gap narrows between rich and poor kids

More children are arriving at kindergarten ready to learn. (Jake May/The Flint Journal-MLive.com via AP)

Research findings released today depart from the usual bleak news about the academic prospects of American children born into low-income families: The gap in kindergarten academic readiness between high- and low-income students narrowed by 10 percent to 16 percent between 1998 and 2010.

The significant narrowing comes after decades of a widening gap that caused education advocates to fear the United States was at risk of producing a permanent underclass. The school readiness gap for cohorts of children born in the mid-1970s and mid-1990s had grown by about 40 percent. This sharp reversal of that trend appears to verify the value of early childhood programs, but may also show low-income parents understand the importance of reading to their young children and developing their cognitive skills.

Schools actually narrow the achievement gap; it’s what affluent children get before they start school that gives them significant academic advantages over the children of the middle class and the poor, according to the research. These new findings suggest poor parents better understand their critical role in getting their children ready to learn in school.

Researchers looked at nationally representative data from the National Center for Education Statistics and compared the reading, writing, and math skills of about 17,000 incoming kindergarten students in 2010 to 20,000 students from 1998. To look at the income gap, the authors compared students from families at the 10th and 90th percentiles of the income distribution.

The research published today in AERA Open, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association, surprised Sean F. Reardon, professor of poverty and inequality in education at Stanford University. Reardon conducted the study with Ximena A. Portilla, a research associate at MDRC.

“Given that income inequality in the United States has continued to rise in the 2000s, we expected the gap in school readiness would also continue to grow, but instead it has narrowed,” said Reardon in a statement. “This suggests that the income achievement gap is malleable; it can be reduced.”

Reardon’s research on the relationship between academic achievement and family income found an increased link between family income and children’s academic achievement, noting in earlier studies, “The income achievement gap does not appear to be a result of a growing achievement gap between children with highly educated and less-educated parents. In fact, the relationship between parental education and children’s achievement has remained relatively stable during the last 50 years, while the relationship between income and achievement has grown sharply. Family income is now nearly as strong as parental education in predicting children’s achievement.”

According to the official summary:

The study also found that between 1998 and 2010, the white-Hispanic gap in kindergarten readiness narrowed by about 14 percent. The white-black readiness gap appears to have narrowed as well, but the margin of error was too wide for the study to conclude so with certainty. Unlike income achievement gaps, the white-black and white-Hispanic achievement gaps have declined considerably over the last four decades. The recent narrowing of the kindergarten racial readiness gaps described by Reardon and Portilla represented a continuation of this trend.

Reardon and Portilla noted that other data—from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—show that the white-black and white-Hispanic gaps in fourth-grade test scores likewise narrowed between the same cohorts of children. The NAEP data do not include information on students’ family income, so it is not clear if the narrowed income gaps in kindergarten persisted.

Nonetheless, “racial academic achievement gaps in fourth grade declined at roughly the same rate as kindergarten entry gaps,” said Reardon. “This suggests that the primary source of the reduction in racial achievement gaps in fourth grade is the reduction in kindergarten readiness gaps, not a reduction in the rate at which gaps change between kindergarten and fourth grade.”

Despite the narrowing of kindergarten readiness gaps in recent years, they remain large. The authors noted that, at the rates that gaps declined in the last 12 years, it would take another 60 to 110 years for them to be completely eliminated.

Based on research from another AERA Open article published today, Reardon said that changes in parental involvement in education may have contributed to the change in income-based and race-based kindergarten readiness gaps.

Here is a video of Reardon discussing the findings:

Reader Comments 0

34 comments
Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

In cases such as this, it is always beneficial to look at the underlying data.  For example, did the actual scores increase or did they simply change the cut score to increase the percentage of students "kindergarten ready" or some other vague terminology?    There are a multitude of ways to play games with these types of studies.


But the burning question of the day is how the hell do you get to be a professor of "poverty and inequality"?   No doubt, the solution to all of this poverty and inequality is more taxpayer money.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

"Can somebody verify that no groups' kindergarten readiness declined? Did the overall average score rise?"

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


As a follow-up to what I had written earlier and in answering these two questions which "eulb" had posed earlier, I would simply add that, in my educational experiences and training, the higher performing, higher income groups of students (k and 4th grade), who more than likely had met their potential, individually, would not  have declined because potential, realized, rarely declines except for unusual circumstances.  However, individual potential, unrealized, as with the lower performing, lower income groups of students (k and 4th grade) will often climb with academic and emotional support and nurturing, to meet each student's potential.  Thus, the higher group would not have declined under normal circumstances and the overall score would have risen because the lower group would have risen under normal circumstances.


Moreover, I want to suggest that, based on my educational knowledge and experience,  there will always be a gap of some degree between the higher performing groups and the lower performing groups because the potential of individual students will always vary.  This means that, more than likely, the gap will never close completely, but as educators and parents, we can make sure that the gap is as narrow as possible and that every child has reached his or her individual potential throughout  his or her school years,  k -12.

eulb
eulb

Narrowing the kindergarten readiness gap sounds like great news, but I want more detail.  I'm not sure how to describe what I want to see, so I'll use an analogy:  elementary school achievement test scores.  

If you were analyzing those achievement test scores in relation to income level, one would expect that students from higher income families would continue to enjoy high achievement test scores.  Their scores would not decline.  (If they did decline, the income gap would narrow, but it would be a bad thing.  No group's scores should be falling.)  One would hope that lower income students' scores would rise.  In that case, the income-achievement gap would narrow AND the average score of all groups combined would rise.  

In this kindergarten readiness study, I'm assuming that middle and high income students' readiness stayed roughly the same, and low income students' scores rose significantly. But the article doesn't actually say how the middle and high income groups performed.  It just says the gap narrowed. That could mean that higher income & middle income students' readiness declined. Can somebody verify that no groups' kindergarten readiness declined? Did the overall average score rise?

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@eulb


I will try to give more time to your credible question later.  I simply do not have time now.  However, I will state that potential has a topping out point so that if students entering kindergarten from higher income groups have "maxed out" their individual potential levels when entering kindergarten (and some may be reading on 3rd grade level upon entering kindergarten), then there will not be much room for growth indicated on standardized test scores for these already high performing students.


However, if other students, who have been deprived from reaching their individual potential because of socio-economic factors, then many of those students may show tremendous growth academically after having entered kindergarten and having been taught with excellent and pinpointed instruction during that kindergarten year.


As a result, the top students may not grow much academically, but the bottom students will grow significantly because their potential had not yet been met.  Thus, the gap between the rich and the poor students' performances would be lessened and the overall advancement of both groups, averaged together, may not be as great as you might have expected or desired.


I have always simply wanted each child to reach his or her individual potential in traditional public schools.  The failure comes when that potential for EVERY student has not been met. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Note to all: NCES and AERA are highly respected and respectable sources and resources for information and publication of analysis.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Do we see this same trend past the kindergarten year?  THAT will help answer the question of what is driving this. 

Astropig
Astropig

Not a surprise.Dovetails nicely with the exploding availability of charter schools.25 years ago,there weren't any,now there are (roughly) 6700. Increased educational choice for poor,working poor and poverty-afflicted families will be their ticket to a better life.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Astropig What percentage of these (roughly) 6700 charter schools primarily serve poor, working poor, and poverty-aflicted families?  I'm really curious as to whether you know of a source for that specific information.


As to the "exploding availability" explaining the change, of course, it does not, as these are incoming kindergarten kids.  But that may not be what you were getting at; if not, please further discuss.



Astropig
Astropig

@Wascatlady @Astropig


Reform,choice and accountability.Those three themes have defined public education over the last decade and a half.Any improvement in scores or performance is directly attributable to those factors.

BRV
BRV

Perhaps you could read the article, or better yet the study itself, before typing. The authors attribute the change in achievement to an increase in kindergarten readiness not school effects between grades K and 4. IOW, this has nothing to do with charters, accountability or school choice.

Astropig
Astropig

@Starik @MaryElizabethSings @Astropig @Wascatlady


By all means,go get the data.But I'll continue to support public officials and candidates that will push for more accountability,more choice and innovation in education.I'm not going to get lost in the weeds of collecting data while the world moves ahead and our kids have to compete in a global marketplace.

Astropig
Astropig

@MaryElizabethSings @Astropig @Wascatlady

@Wascatlady

@Wascatlady


"Reform has also happened within traditional public schools over the past couple of decades."


It's much more accurate to say that the status quo has had reform imposed on them by the public,through political action.Left to their own devices,zip code,status quo schools would never move forward a single inch unless they were bribed or forced to.Reformers are using more of the latter and the results are encouraging. 

Astropig
Astropig

@taylor48 @Astropig


Parents that have options will be much more likely to help their kids get ready and stay engaged in the educational process.They will be excited about the opportunity to see their kids challenged and reach their full potential.Bad schools,on the other hand, are a just another interaction with an uncaring bureaucracy that runs (and ruins) these people's lives in a thousand petty ways.I have had several parents explain this phenomenon to me.Success breeds success.Winning and achieving are an attitude.

Astropig
Astropig

@BRV


I've had several parents of low income and disadvantaged kids tell me that they're actually excited to have charter and other options for their (soon to matriculate) kids.They have been told and understand that the expectations for them as parents are higher with charters and they want to help their kids succeed.Some have even asked for help to do things with their kids that they can't do.


It may have nothing to do with you personally,but I interact with people that consider school options a blessing.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Astropig 

"Left to their own devices,zip code,status quo schools would never move forward a single inch unless they were bribed or forced to."

------------------------------------------

That was not true in my case and from my experience I know that is not true in other cases.  I committed my educational career to fostering reform in public schools simply because I knew answers that could reform public education for the better.  The data, at that time, showed  that much growth occurred among those students in which their readability was deliberately built through knowledge, hard work, and precise work.

No one forced me nor bribed to do what I did.  The extra hours, and the extra essays I have written on education, have been entirely altruistic in nature, simply because I cared and because I had instructional insight through experience and training which I knew needed to be shared to reform, for the better, traditional public education.

BRV
BRV

Since you won't read the study ... The authors don't cite your ideological biases, anecdotes or the charter fairy as causal factors. They do cite increased preschool enrollment among lower income families as one likely reason for the change in school readiness.

taylor48
taylor48

@Astropig How would charter schools affect kindergarten readiness?  I can see a study that looked at the gap in HS readiness and seeing how charters affected that, but this study is looking at students who haven't even entered school yet.  (Unless they've been in Head Start, pre-K, or preschool)

itsbrokeletsfixit
itsbrokeletsfixit

@Astropig @Wascatlady Poor and unsubstantiated assumption. This is the common flaw of the choice advocates. They just assume charters are better without data to support those opinions or with cherry picked data that ignores unpleasant facts of failing charters, fraud and corruption (like the two Atlanta charters) which siphons tax dollars away from public schools. 

itsbrokeletsfixit
itsbrokeletsfixit

@BRV Exactly, and those who drink the "reformist" cool aid are not looking at the real results of their "reforms" over the past 15 years. It ain't working, folks, and it is stealing funds from already strapped public schools. Making judgements about public schools and then abandoning them for fairy-land "choice" ideology does not address the real problems of education. 

linflo
linflo

Well, when you don't have to think for several generations, because your simply hire others to think for you, eventually you will lose it. No surprise.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@linflo Who do you think hasn't been thinking for several generations because they have hired someone to think for them?  

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@RoyalDawg @MaryElizabethSings


You are wrong based on the number of "hits" I have already received from these 5 essays on this thread.  I am not interested in myself, but in helping parents and teachers to enhance the literacy levels of our young.