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May 2011

From the Director's Office

Stanford's Reardon Discusses Income Achievement Gaps

The gap in achievement between students from low-income and high-income backgrounds has increased dramatically in recent years and is now significantly larger than the Black-White achievement gap, according to Stanford University researcher Sean Reardon in a recent presentation and discussion with IES staff.

Reardon's presentation, entitled "The Widening Academic Achievement Gap Between the Rich and the Poor: New Evidence and Possible Expectations," detailed findings from his research on the income achievement gap over the last 25 years. Analyzing data from 19 nationally representative studies, including multiple NCES surveys, Reardon found that the economic achievement gap has increased by 30–40 percent for children born in 2001 compared to children born 25 years earlier. He also found that the income achievement gap is now nearly twice as large as the racial achievement gap. Reardon defined the income achievement gap as the income difference between a child from a family in the 90th percentile in family-income distribution and a child from the 10th percentile.

A number of different explanations for this change were cited, including a possible increase in higher income families investing in their children's cognitive development and increased socioeconomic segregation between rich and poor families. A possible decrease in social programs for poor students was also listed as a potential cause, although Reardon stressed that all of these reasons were not definitive and would need more research to establish their scientific validity.