Early Childhood

Kindergarten Study Links Learning Deficits to Poverty

By Linda Jacobson — October 02, 2002 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

High-quality preschool programs, computers in the home, and policies that allow for a more “equitable distribution” of pupils from different racial and economic backgrounds across public schools can help reduce the learning deficits many children bring to kindergarten, a report set for release this week concludes.

Read an executive summary of the report, “Inequality at the Starting Gate: Social Background Differences in Achievement as Children Begin School,” from the Economic Policy Institute. The full report can be ordered for $11.95 per copy either online or by calling Zaneta Green at (202) 775-8810.

Using data from the U.S. Department of Education’s ongoing study of 16,000 children who entered kindergarten in 1998, the report from the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank, focuses on what many disadvantaged children are lacking when they arrive at school.

For example, kindergartners in the lowest fifth of socioeconomic status came from families that owned just 38 books, compared with 108 for kindergartners whose families are in the top fifth.

What’s more, says the EPI report, titled “Inequality at the Starting Gate,” 20 percent of the poorest kindergartners have a computer in their homes, compared with 85 percent of kindergartners from the top income level. Children from poorer households, it notes, also spend more time watching television—18 hours each week, compared with 11 hours weekly for children from the highest socioeconomic status.

Expectations for Schools

Evidence of such disparities is found in children’s achievement scores once they enter school, the report says. Children in the highest socioeconomic group scored 60 percent higher in mathematics and reading than those in the lowest group, the research shows.

“We should expect schools to increase achievement for all students, regardless of race, income, class, and prior achievement,” write the authors, Valerie E. Lee, an education professor at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, and David T. Burkam, an assistant research scientist there. “But it is unreasonable to expect schools to completely eliminate any large pre-existing inequalities soon after children first enter the education system, especially if those schools are underfunded and overchallenged.”

While the authors don’t blame schools for those inequalities, they note that poor children’s problems are made worse by the schools they attend.

Therefore, they conclude, policies are needed “that seek to improve all schools, so access to good schools is not confined to the affluent, to whites, to those who reside in the suburbs, or to those who are well enough informed to seek them out.”

Meredith Phillips, an assistant professor of public policy at the University of California, Los Angeles, said the study shows that achievement gaps begin long before children enter school.

“The clearest implication [of the report] is that we really do need more educationally focused preschool,” she said.


Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Early Childhood Opinion The Problems With Biden’s Universal Pre-K Proposal
An early-childhood education leader expresses concerns that the universal pre-K plan risks separating pre-K from the wider child-care sector.
5 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Early Childhood What the Research Says Starting School After the Pandemic: Youngest Students Will Need Foundational Skills
The earliest grades saw the biggest enrollment drops in 2020-21. Experts say these students will need significant help come fall.
4 min read
Image shows preschool boy wearing a protective face mask with a marker in hand.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Early Childhood Opinion Waterford Upstart on Providing Remote Learning to 90,000 Pre-K Kids
Rick Hess speaks with Dr. LaTasha Hadley of Waterford Upstart about its use of adaptive software to close gaps in kindergarten readiness.
6 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Early Childhood Opinion How Two Child-Care Centers Put Competition Aside and Created a Partnership During COVID-19
Due to COVID-19, two early-childhood centers put their competition aside to work together to support families during the pandemic.
Charles Dinofrio
7 min read