The enormous gap in academic performance between high- and low-income children has begun to narrow. Children entering kindergarten today are more equally prepared than they were in the late 1990s.
From 1998 to 2010, the school readiness gap narrowed by 10 percent in math and 16 percent in reading. The gaps that remain are still vast. But even this modest improvement represents a sharp reversal of the trend over the preceding decades.
It’s worth noting that the gap in school readiness narrowed because of relatively rapid improvements in the skills of low-income children, not because the skills of children from high-income families declined.
How long lasting are these results?
The biggest question is, of course, why?These improvements appear to persist at least into fourth grade. Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress show that by 2015, when those kindergartners were in fourth grade, their math and reading skills were roughly two-thirds of a grade level higher than those of their counterparts 12 years earlier. This was true for children of all racial and ethnic groups and for poor and nonpoor children alike.
One possibility is that school readiness gaps have narrowed because it is easier now for poor families to find high-quality, publicly funded preschool programs for their children. Today 29 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled in state-funded preschools, up from 14 percent in 2002.
It may be changes in children’s homes that have mattered most. Tracking the experiences of young children over time, we found that both rich and poor children today have more books and read with their parents more often than they did in the ’90s. They are far more likely to have computers, internet access and computer games focused on reading and math skills. Their parents are more likely to spend time with them, taking them to the library or doing activities at home.But...
But here’s the puzzle: In many ways, the lives of rich and poor parents haven’t become more equal — far from it. Among families with school-age children, income inequality grew by roughly 10 percent from 1998 to 2010; economic segregation grew by 20 percent. How is it that the school readiness gap is nonetheless narrowing?What it may be is one basic idea - early engagement with babies and toddlers matters.
We suspect that in part this happened because of the widespread diffusion of a single powerful idea: that the first few years of a child’s life are the most consequential for cognitive development.
Why are low-income families now adopting these parenting practices? It may be partly a result of public information campaigns like Reach Out and Read, the Too Small to Fail initiative and local efforts in cities like Providence, R.I., which aim to teach parents simple ways to help their children build the vocabulary and cognitive skills that form a foundation for success in school.
As encouraging as this new evidence is, we have a long way to go. Poor children still enter kindergarten nearly a year behind their richer peers. Even if school readiness gaps continue to narrow at the rate they did between 1998 and 2010, it would take another 60 to 110 years for them to be completely eliminated.One big takeaway - attention ed reformers:
Changes in parenting are not going to be sufficient to sustain or speed this progress, although more paid leave would help. Economic inequality still constrains poor children’s horizons. Low-income and middle-class parents still struggle to find affordable, high-quality preschools. The elementary, middle and high schools that rich and poor students attend differ markedly in resources and quality.
If we don’t do something about these larger problems, the progress we have made toward equality in early childhood may prove only a brief respite from ever-widening educational inequality. “Goodnight Moon,” for all its charm and power, is no substitute for comprehensive social policy.Better schools and good teachers alone are not going to solve this problem. Helping parents to find new ways to support their child's learning is not the only thing that needs to happen.
It's that "comprehensive social policy" that needs to be happening, in parallel with good education. No one is saying, "Solve poverty first." But the two things go hand and hand.
This is one of issues for McCleary funding. It cannot come on the backs of social/health services. Those are the very services that help provide the underlying foundation so that low-income children can do better in life and in school. I hope the Legislature doesn't even bring up cuts in that direction at all but if they do, I, for one, will oppose them.