Notable Quotables: Only in America

By Roberto A. Ferdman at the Washington Post:

Only in America: Four years into life, poor kids are already an entire year behind


“Wealthy parents aren’t just able to send their kids to top pre-schools—they can also purchase the latest learning technology and ensure their children experience as many museums, concerts and other cultural experiences as possible. Low-income parents, on the other hand, don’t have that opportunity. Instead, they’re often left to face the reality of sending their kids to schools without having had the chance to provide an edifying experience at home.

That might sound foreboding if not hyperbolic, but it’s a serious and widespread problem in the United States, where poor kids enter school already a year behind the kids of wealthier parents. That deficit is among the largest in the developed world, and it can be extraordinarily difficult to narrow later in life.

This is one of the key takeaways from a new book about how United States is failing its children. The book, called Too Many Children Left Behind, is written by Columbia University professor Jane Waldfogel, a long-time researcher of poverty and inequality. And it will force almost anyone to reflect on the impact of unchecked inequality on children.

Waldfogel says the massive achievement gap in the United States is a blemish for a country that aspires to be the greatest in the world. In her book, she shows that achievement gap is pronounced to a startling degree in the first years of life.”

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Commentary: In Massachusetts, wealthier families have long known the benefits of  investing in quality early education in addition to learning at home with parents and other caregivers. The top five wealthiest communities (Boxford, Concord, Carlisle, Weston and Sherborn) have 92% of their preschool-aged children enrolled in early education even though only 47% of families with children under six have all parents in the workforce. Two of the top five actually enroll every single one of their preschoolers in early education (Sherborn and Carlisle).

In contrast, the five poorest communities (Lawrence, Springfield, Holyoke, Fall River and Chelsea) have only 42% of their preschool-aged children enrolled in early education while 62% of families with children under age six have all parents in the workforce. In some communities the disparity is even more pronounced, with almost 3/4 of families with all parents in the workforce yet only a little more than 1/4 of preschool-aged children enrolled in early education (Fitchburg).

So it should come as no surprise that more than 3/4 of children in the wealthiest communities meet or exceed 3rd grade reading standards as measured by PARCC or MCAS, while only a little more than 1/4 of children in our poorest communities are proficient in reading by 3rd grade (76% vs. 28%).

See Strategies for Children’s website for more detailed data by city/town.


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