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by Mary Soderstrom

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Monday, 29 April 2013

The Rich Get Rich Dept: Academic Gap Widens between Rich and Poor Kids in the US

It's obvious in some ways, but rich kids do better in school and succeed in all sorts of things more often than poor kids do.  We all know that, but an op-ed piece in The New York Times today shows just how much that gap has grown in the US over the last 40 years.  I don't know the corresponding figures in Canada, but what's happening there has policy implication here for day care, parental leave and social services here. 

Sean F. Reardon writes in the piece that the big increase appears to have come from higher performance by richer kids who, in general, have started school with a backpack of cognitive skills that poor and middle class kids may not have.  After outlining the problem, he writes:  "Maybe we should take a lesson from the rich and invest much more heavily as a society in our children’s educational opportunities from the day they are born. Investments in early-childhood education pay very high societal dividends. That means investing in developing high-quality child care and preschool that is available to poor and middle-class children. It also means recruiting and training a cadre of skilled preschool teachers and child care providers. These are not new ideas, but we have to stop talking about how expensive and difficult they are to implement and just get on with it."  

This makes enormous sense, particularly when these days it takes two middle range incomes to assure a middle class standard of living.  Quebec, for all its faults, has had a large, mostly publicly financed child care program for the last 15 years which assures that relatively few kids arrive in kindergarten without a having listened to a lot of stories, heard songs, drew pictures, and played in a group. In addition, parental leave programs give most working families a chance for one parent to devote nearly a year to staying home with a baby. What  happens as this cohort makes its way through the school system is being studied and ought to influence policy across the country.

What is clear is that Jeanne, at two and  a half, has learned  lots of stuff asince she started day care seven months ago--putting on her coat and boots herself for example--that her mother (who's pretty smart)  wasn't doing until she was more than three. 

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