Based on data from the National Center for Economic Statistics (NCES) and NAEP scores, the school readiness gap between low and high income students narrowed ten points in math and sixteen points in reading between 1998 and 2010. The story reported in the New York Times noted that children from poor families improved at a higher rate than did other children.
It is important to note that on average achievement scores for all students are slowly rising even though income differences between groups are increasing.
According to a 2013 article from Stanford University, No Rich Child Left Behind, schools seem to produce about one half of the disparity in test scores between the rich and the poor. The remaining difference is attributed to parenting and the experiences wealthy families provide for their children. These children are higher achieving when they enter school.
Why then would kindergarten readiness improve significantly for poor children? Nationwide there has been an increase in attendance in state funded preschools–up from 14% in 2002 to 29% of children enrolled in 2016. Yet, most poor children attended day care facilities that were far inferior to those in more affluent areas. The authors use N.C.E.S. data to show that children from low income families now have more books, access to technology and are more involved in educational activities with their parents than they did prior to 2002.
The gap in school readiness is still large, and the quality of preschools is a major concern. Florida attempted to correct this by establishing a free voluntary pre kindergarten for all children. Approximately 77% of four year olds attend VPK, but funding adjusted for inflation steadily declines. A University of Virginia study of Florida’s program cited that access to preschool was a higher priority than the quality of the preschool. An OPPAGA evaluation of Florida’s Voluntary Pre Kindergarten (VPK) program, however, did indicate that children enrolled in VPK whether for either three or six hours performed better on kindergarten readiness skills than those who did not attend. The program works but not for families who need it most.
Given that data show that children from low income families are less likely to enroll children in VPK, the State should determine how best to encourage participation of the twenty percent of children not enrolled. It may be that access to VPK is most difficult for children from low income working families. These families need full time day care, and VPK is only a three hours and may not be offered in many day care settings. A serious review of barriers to access is needed. Equally important is parents’ access to effective teaching/learning strategies to help their children. All children should have good news.