Achievement Gap Wider By Income Than By Race

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The academic achievement gap between low income and wealthy students is nearly double the gap in achievement between white and black students, a new study finds.

Standford University professor Sean Reardon compared average standardized test performances of students at the bottom of the income ladder to those at the top, and found the gap in achievement was nearly double the difference between black and white students.

About 50 years ago, the gap between white and black students’ performances was nearly double the income achievement gap, reports EdSource Extra:

Abundant research has shown compellingly the high correlation between the income level of a student’s family and test scores. But Reardon’s report for the first time looks at the achievement gap between rich and poor children, how that gap compares to the achievement gap between black and white children, and how the gap has evolved over time…

According to Reardon, the reasons the income achievement gap has grown include the following:

  • The income gap between the richest and poorest families has grown over the past 40 years;
  • High income families invest more time and resources into promoting their children’s “cognitive development” than lower income families;
  • High income families increasingly “have greater socioeconomic and social resources that may benefit their children;”
  • Income inequality has led to more residential segregation by income level rather than race, which in turn means that high income children have access to higher quality schools and other resources.

The last point is particularly interesting given that income differences don’t fully account for neighborhood segregation; the average affluent African American or Hispanic lives in a poorer neighborhood than the average low income white. In D.C., some parents have argued that those in wealthier neighborhoods — which tend to be white — have had more sway and influence in getting their neighborhood schools to improve rather than be shut down, such as happened to Ward 5 middle schools.

Still, Reardon said that his findings show the income achievement gap isn’t “confounded by race;” over the years, the difference in academic achievement between poor and rich white students has only gotten larger.