Rich Students Outpace Others in Educational Achievement

While the education sector has made progress in narrowing the achievement gap between white and black students over the past few decades, recent research suggests that the gap between rich and poor children has widened substantially, the New York Times reports.

According to a recent Stanford University study, the gap in standardized test scores between rich and poor children has more than doubled since the 1960s, while a different study from the University of Michigan found that the gap in college completion — considered the single most important predictor of success later in life — between the two groups has grown by about 50 percent since the late 1980s.

Many such studies were conducted prior to the stock market crash of 2008. "With income declines more severe in the lower brackets, there's a good chance the recession may have widened the gap," Sean F. Reardon, a sociology professor at Stanford, told the Times. In the study he led, children from families with incomes of around $160,000 (the ninetieth percentile) were compared to children from families with incomes of around $17,500 (the tenth percentile). The study found that by the end of the reporting period, the achievement gap by income had increased 40 percent, while the gap between white and black students, regardless of income, had narrowed significantly.

One possible reason for the gap, researchers say, is that wealthy parents are increasingly investing more time and money in their children and activities such as sports and artistic pursuits, while lower-income families are more likely to be headed by single parents and stretched for time and resources. Some researchers also argue that when the economy recovers, the problems will persist for reasons that have nothing to do with income.

Indeed, even with recent research highlighting the importance of family income on a child's educational achievement, James J. Heckman, professor of economics at the University of Chicago, told the Times that parenting matters more, especially during a child's early years. "Early life conditions and how children are stimulated play a very important role," said Heckman. "The danger is we will revert back to the mindset of the war on poverty, when poverty was just a matter of income, and giving families more would improve the prospects of their children. If people conclude that, it's a mistake."

Sabrina Tavernise. "Education Gap Grows Between Rich and Poor, Studies Say." New York Times 02/09/2012.