Education and the income gap

By Linda Darling-Hammond

There is much handwringing about low educational attainment in the United States these days. We hear constantly about U.S. rankings on assessments like the international PISA tests: The United States was 14th in reading, 21st in science, 25th in math in 2009, for example. We hear about how young children in high-poverty areas are entering kindergarten unprepared and far behind many of their classmates. Middle school students from low-income families are scoring, on average, far below the proficient levels that would enable them to graduate high school, go to college, and get good jobs. Fewer than half of high school students manage to graduate from some urban schools. And too many poor and minority students who do go on to college require substantial remediation and drop out before gaining a degree.

There is another story we rarely hear: Our children who attend schools in low-poverty contexts are doing quite well. In fact, U.S. students in schools in which less than 10 percent of children live in poverty score first in the world in reading, out-performing even the famously excellent Finns.

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