Education Gap Between Rich and Poor Is Growing Wider

The NYT has some good news and bad news on education, here. First, in case you’re a professor wondering if what you do makes a difference, it does. College matters more and more:

College has become virtually a precondition for upward mobility. Men with only a high school diploma earn about a fifth less than they did 35 years ago. The gap between the earnings of students with a college degree and those without one is bigger than ever.

The good news:

Today, despite some setbacks along the way, racial disparities in education have narrowed significantly. By 2012, the test-score deficit of black 9-, 13- and 17-year-olds in reading and math had been reduced as much as 50 percent compared with what it was 30 to 40 years before.

Achievements like these breathe hope into our belief in the Land of Opportunity. They build trust in education as a leveling force powering economic mobility. “We do have a track record of reducing these inequalities,” said Jane Waldfogel, a professor of social work at Columbia University.

Then the bad:

But the question remains: Why did we stop there? For all the progress in improving educational outcomes among African-American children, the achievement gaps between more affluent and less privileged children is wider than ever, notes Sean Reardon of the Center for Education Policy Analysis at Stanford. Racial disparities are still a stain on American society, but they are no longer the main divider. Today the biggest threat to the American dream is class. …

Only 5 percent of Americans ages 25 to 34 whose parents didn’t finish high school have a college degree. By comparison, the average across 20 rich countries in an analysis by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is almost 20 percent. …

On the day they start kindergarten, children from families of low socioeconomic status are already more than a year behind the children of college graduates in their grasp of both reading and math.

It gets worse:

And despite the efforts deployed by the American public education system, nine years later the achievement gap, on average, will have widened by somewhere from one-half to two-thirds.

Even the best performers from disadvantaged backgrounds, who enter kindergarten reading as well as the smartest rich kids, fall behind over the course of their schooling.

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