Growing economic inequality, new research details, is translating into an ever greater achievement gap in America’s classrooms.
His vitally important central finding: That achievement gap most certainly — and most dangerously — has widened, and substantially so.
How substantially? Achievement scores for high- and low-income children born in 2001, documents Reardon’s just published new paper, The Widening Academic Achievement Gap between the Rich and the Poor: New Evidence and Possible Explanations, show a roughly 50 percent wider gap than the divide for children born a quarter century earlier.
Another way of looking at the numbers: Fifty years ago, the achievement gap between white and black children stood one-and-a-half times wider than the gap between children from low- and high-income families. Today, test score gaps by income run one-and-a-half times larger than test score gaps by race.
Why is our achievement “income” gap ballooning? Reardon offers various explanations. The most likely, notes sociologist Claude Fischer in a commentary on Reardon’s new research, may be the enhanced ability of affluent parents to leverage “their financial assets into better academic skills for their children.”
Today’s wealthy parents, Fischer explains, have more tools they can buy to “cultivate” their children’s academic skills: “educational software for infants, early childhood educational programs, pre-school enrichment classes, after-school lessons, tutors, summer camps with intellectual themes, and so on.”
Even among similarly educated parents, adds Fischer, those “with more income seem increasingly better able than those with less income to raise their children’s test scores.”
What makes all this so socially toxic? The conclusion Reardon draws in his new paper makes the danger distressingly plain.
“As the children of the rich do better in school, and those who do better in school are more likely to become rich,” writes the Stanford researcher, “we risk producing an even more unequal and economically polarized society.”