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OPINION: It’s the opportunity gap, stupid

May 13, 2013
New York Daily News
In this op-ed, GSE professor Carter and University of Colorado professor Welner detail how the achievement gap in academic performance has its roots in the opportunity gap that divides the rich, the middle class and the poor.
Prudence Carter and Kevin Welner

Parents in New York City who compete for coveted slots in the most sought-after preschools and kindergartens are often met with ridicule. But what these parents are doing is logical. They recognize something that many leaders — including Mayor Bloomberg — have largely ignored for years: Children learn when they have opportunities to learn, and the richer those opportunities from the very earliest age, the greater the learning.

If you want the right outcome, you need the right inputs.

By the time young children enter kindergarten, education researchers already see a fully developed test-score gap. The children at the top are those most advantaged by their parents’ wealth, having begun their academic development at very early ages. They board an elevator that speeds them to academic success.

Children in middle-class families benefit from some of these resources, but their parents must struggle to try to keep up. Effectively, their parents are able to put them on smoothly operating escalators toward academic attainment goals; but theirs is no express elevator.

Meanwhile, children who are born into poor or lower-income families face enormous disadvantages. They stare up at a steep stairwell, often with broken steps and no hand rails. Although their test scores have increased some over two decades, the relative gap between them and the other groups is still startling high. Nearly two-thirds of black and Latino youth under the age of 18 fall into this group, and, though there are, of course, many exceptions, their talent is being wasted year after year, generation after generation.

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