Income Achievement Gap Eclipses Racial Achievement Gap
I was thrilled last week to see that Sean Reardon’s work on income inequality and education was featured for two days on the New York Times home page (especially since the work was published in a book edited by my advisor, Richard Murnane.)
What Reardon and his colleagues demonstrate is that the “income achievement gap” has now grown wider than the “racial achievement gap.” That is, the test score differences between wealthy and poor students now exceed the differences between white and black students.
“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 steadily for at least fifty years, though the data are less certain for cohorts of children born before 1970.”
These patterns cohere, loosely, with findings from my own research. I conducted a wide variety analyses about differences in wiki quality among schools serving different populations: I found no differences in wiki quality or longevity in schools serving different racial populations, but I found significant differences between wikis created in schools serving wealthy students and wikis created in schools serving predominantly poor students. (Of course, measures of wiki quality are not the same as measures of student achievement).
As it turns out, however, these differences are not necessarily created by the public school system. Unfortunately, they are not ameliorated by them either. As Reardon notes:
“As Duncan and Magnuson (in chapter 3, this volume) note, the income achievement gap is large when children enter kindergarten and does not appear to grow (or narrow) appreciably as children progress through school.”
Certainly, this research provides one more study behind the vast quantity of evidence that early childhood education is both critical for educational equity and provides a terrific return on investment. Many of my doctoral colleagues at HGSE are working on issues of early childhood education, and I hope this work gives them greater support.
For me, this research provides more evidence that those of us who toil the fields of educational technology need to be attentive to issues of equity and need to consider how technology interventions can be designed to disproportionately benefit students who most need support. If technology interventions predominantly benefit the already affluent, then education technology will contribute to the pernicious decline in intergenerational mobility. As Reardon warns:
“At the same time that family income has become more predictive of children’s academic achievement, so have educational attainment and cognitive skills become more predictive of adults’ earnings. The combination of these trends creates a feedback mechanism that may decrease intergenerational mobility. As the children of the rich do better in school, and those who do better in school are more likely to become rich, we risk producing an even more unequal and economically polarized society.”