School Readiness Gaps Narrowing, Report Says, But Slowly

(Photo: Public Domain, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Public Domain, Creative Commons)

Income and racial/ethnic gaps to school readiness have declined among kindergarten students over the last 12 years, a new paper on school readiness trends has found. However, children in kindergarten today may not see the gaps eliminated during their lifetime.

The working paper, titled ‘Recent Trends in Income, Racial, and Ethnic School Readiness Gaps at Kindergarten Entry’, published by the Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis provides new evidence on achievement gaps measured by numerous variables to identify if trends from previous research are present within the education sector today.

Sean F. Reardon of Stanford University and Ximena A. Portilla of MDRC discovered that school readiness between ethnic groups narrowed between 1998 and 2010 despite an increase to income inequality and segregation and differences in parental spending on children.

The paper concludes that a:

“… decline in income gaps and in white-Hispanic gaps in academic sills at kindergarten entry are moderately large and statistically significant; the estimated declines in white-black math and reading gaps are somewhat smaller, and are not statistically significant in reading and are only marginally significant in math. The evidence regarding trends in gaps and other measures of school readiness are less clear. Racial/ethic gaps in teacher-reported measures of self control and approaches to learning declined by 30-50%, while the income gap in teacher-reported externalizing behavior increased by 9%.”

One explanation provided by the authors on the overall narrowing of the income school readiness gap is that it could be attributable to a change in rates to enrollment in preschool during 1998 and 2010.

The period of strong economic growth in the 1990s and the recession beginning in 2007 disproportionally affected the income and employment of low-income families and income distribution and equality. The authors state that income related inequality might have resulted in differences between children’s development, both cognitively and socially.

“The narrowing racial/ethnic differences in child poverty, conversely, may have led to narrowing racial/ethnic gaps in school readiness.”

The educational attributes of parents were also examined in the study along with residential segregation, which were both factors to income gaps and impacted on school readiness.

An increase in health insurance rates for poorer children and cultural changes to parenting, especially regarding parental attention to a child’s cognitive development, might also have improved school readiness. These results present scope for future studies to better understand their correlation and relevance, however.

Sadly, even though income and math gaps between the cohorts have narrowed over the past twelve years, they will not be eliminated for 60 to 110 years at this pace, with income and racial/ethnic gaps persisting as the children progress through school.

However, the overall narrowing of the gap between white‐black and white‐Hispanic achievement between the 1970s and 2010 is encouraging from the perspective of equity. Nevertheless, the widening of the income achievement gap between the same period presents policymakers with a complex challenge and requires a more in depth analysis to understand the essence of the issue.

The authors utilized data from the kindergarten and birth cohort Early Childhood Longitudinal Study’s to provide measures on academic skills, behavior and early learning experiences.

A copy of the paper is available online.