New research out of Stanford University shows that while efforts to close the achievement gap between white students and minority students has been slowly working, the achievement gap between wealthier and poorer students is widening. According to the study the gap between rich students and poor students is now twice as large as the gap between black and white students.
“We have moved from a society in the 1950s and 1960s, in which race was more consequential than family income, to one today in which family income appears more determinative of educational success than race,” Sean F. Reardon, a sociologist and Stanford University professor who authored the research said to The New York Times.
In the study, the researchers examined standardized test scores from 12 data sets from 1960 to 2007. Reardon compared scores from those in the top 10th percentile of income to those in the bottom 10th percentile. By 2007, the gap had grown by 40 percent.
Reardon explained that there are often many factors that contribute to this, some of which are the fact that the rich and the poor have also become increasingly more segregated and social programs have been increasingly cut over the past few decades.
“If you have money, generally your neighbors have money, which means you probably have access to better child care and preschools, and better elementary schools, parks and libraries,” Reardon said to Stanford University News. “It's harder to be poor in America than it used to be. Some aspects of the social safety net have gotten weaker, and programs to help families through hard times have been dismantled.”
Another study out of the University of Michigan echoes these findings, showing that the gap continues into college. Published in the same book, called Wither Opportunity?, as Reardon’s study, Susan M. Dynarski and Martha J. Bailey examined two generations of students as they went to college.
The results showed that a third of wealthy students from the first generation, people born from 1961 to 1964, while only 5 percent of the poorer students, graduated. The second generation, those born from 1979 to 1982, however, had half of the wealthy generation graduating while only 9 percent of the poorer students graduated.
While it was expected that there was going to be a gap between these two groups of people, no one expected a widening of the gap.
“We had expected the relationship between family income and children's test scores to be pretty stable over time. It's a well-known fact that the two are related,” Reardon said to Stanford University News. “But the fact that the gap has grown substantially, especially in the last 25 years, was quite surprising, striking and troubling.”
At the same time, Reardon explained that the most recent data from the study came in 2008, before the current economic crises, meaning that the problems most likely have been compounded over the past few years.
While President Obama has been beefing up his efforts to close the gap, many feel that because the problem is so complex there will not be any simple way to remedy the situation.
“When the economy recovers, you’ll still see all these problems persisting for reasons that have nothing to do with money and everything to do with culture,” Charles Murray, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute said to The New York Times.
Jillian Reed is a writer for 360 Education Solutions