Children, Schools Pay Price for Rising Income Inequality
NEW YORK—After thirty years of rising economic inequality, America’s educational system may be doing more to perpetuate and even to increase inequality than to level the playing field, according to a series of research studies published recently by the Russell Sage and Spencer Foundations.
For the first time, social scientists have compiled data that systematically analyzes the corrosive effects of unequal family resources, disadvantaged neighborhoods, insecure labor markets, and deteriorating school conditions on K-12 education. Their findings, presented in an edited volume Whither Opportunity? and recently featured in the New York Times, show the many ways economic inequality undermines schools’ ability to offer children an equal chance at success:
More Resources on Educational Inequality
- Chapter 1, Whither Opportunity (PDF)
- Executive Summary, Whither Opportunity (PDF)
- Experts on Social Inequality
- Charts and Data
- The gap in academic achievement between affluent and low-income students has grown at a startling rate since the 1950s, and is now double the testing gap between black and white students, according to a study by Sean F. Reardon, a Stanford University sociologist. A chart depicting the growing income achievement gap can be found here.
- Environmental factors can have a profound impact on students’ performance. After a spike in job losses in North Carolina, students reported lower test scores, and the effects emerged more rapidly for low-income children than their affluent peers, according to a study by Elizabeth O. Ananat, Anna Gassman-Pines, and Christina Gibson-Davis.
- Growing inequality contributes to unequal family resources, according to research from Neeraj Kaushal, Katherine Magnuson, and Jane Waldfogel. In the early 1970s, the gap between what the richest and poorest parents spent on enrichment activities—like music lessons or summer camp—was roughly $2,700 a year (in 2008 dollars). By 2005-2006, the difference had increased to $7,500.
- High-income parents spend more time in literacy activities with their children than low-income parents. Most disparate is time spent in “novel” places – other than at home, school, or in the care of another parent or a day care provider. In her study, Meredith Phillips documents that between birth and age six, children from high-income families spend an average of 1,300 more hours in novel contexts than children from low-income families.
- The class divide in college is also widening, according to a study by Martha Bailey and Susan Dynarski. Graduation rates for affluent children jumped 21 percentage points between the early 1960s and the early 1980s. The corresponding increase for low-income students was only four percentage points.
Together, these studies reveal how social and economic conditions surrounding schools can negatively affect school performance and children’s educational attainment with long-standing consequences for their economic success. In their foreword to Whither Opportunity?, Eric Wanner and Michael S. McPherson, the presidents of the Russell Sage and Spencer Foundations, explained the data’s implications for policymakers: “These stark facts signal a real danger that needs to be addressed in many ways, but not least by seriously rethinking and reinvesting in our educational system.”
For more information on these studies, contact David Haproff, director of communications at Russell Sage, at (212) 750-6037. A list of experts in social inequality can be found here, and an online chartbook that showcases some of the dramatic shifts in inequality and educational attainment is also available here.
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The Russell Sage Foundation is the principal American foundation devoted exclusively to research in the social sciences. Located in New York City, it is a research center, a funding source for studies by scholars at other academic and research institutions, and an active member of the nation’s social science community. The Foundation also publishes, under its own imprint, the books that derive from the work of its grantees and Visiting Scholars. It is best known for its support for research programs on low-wage work, social inequality, immigration, and behavioral economics.
For further information on this or any other Russell Sage Foundation publications, or to schedule an interview with the authors, please contact David Haproff at 212-750-6037.
Visit us on the web at: www.russellsage.org
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