Jane Williams: … we seem to be talking much more now about opportunity gap verses achievement gap. Is that important?
Prudence Carter: Absolutely Jane, and it’s important because it's focusing our attention more on the inputs of the process and what actually shapes the outcomes which we’ve been so fixated on over the last several decades, which are the test scores. So that the achievement gap has really been more about the disparities and how children perform in terms of test score performances or outcomes, in terms of graduation rates, college going rates whereas the opportunity gap really reshifts and focuses our attention on what really determines whether a child or student will perform well on tests or will graduate from high school or will go on to college and those are the things that we really need to be focused on and policy needs to direct this attention to.
Jane Williams: Sean give us, in your mind, the most important statistics defining and demonstrating that opportunity gap.
Sean Reardon: Jane, I think the most striking statistic today is the fact that the educational outcomes including achievement gaps and college going gaps have widened over the last few decades, so that now the difference between high and low income children is about 40 percent larger on achievement gaps than it used to be 30 or 40 years ago. So we are seeing an increase in educational inequality which is one of the symptoms of the opportunity gap that Prudence was talking about.
Jane Williams: Why is the gap not narrowing?
Sean Reardon: When we look closely at the data over the last 50 years we see that the gap between high and low income students on achievement tests stays about the same from kindergarten all the way through eighth grade and through high school. So the reason it’s widening seems to be about something that’s been happening in early childhood, that is, more unequal opportunities for kids to achieve the kind of school readiness they need to get to kindergarten.
Hear the full podcast at Bloomberg EDU. The interview with Carter and Reardon begins at minute 7:10.
Read an Op-Ed by Sean Reardon on income inequality and its affect on student performance in the New York Times.