Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Study finds huge language gap between children from wealthy families and those with low incomes

In rural areas, 26.2 percent of children live in poverty, according to the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire, while the majority of public school students in 17 states, including most of the rural South, are considered low-income by the Southern Education Foundation.  A study conducted 20 years ago found a direct connection between low-income parents and the early development of children's language skills, finding that by age 3, children from wealthier families had heard three million more words than children of low-income families. A follow-up study by Stanford University not only confirmed the earlier data but also found that by age 2, wealthier children have learned 30 percent more words than low-income children, with the language gap between wealthy and poor children evident in some cases as early as 18 months of age, Motoko Rich reports for The New York Times. (NYT photo by Ramin Rahimian: Reading from a transitional kindergarten student's journal in Freemont, Calif.)

The study compared children from homes where the median income was $69,000 to homes where it was $23,900. "Since oral language and vocabulary are so connected to reading comprehension, the most disadvantaged children face increased challenges once they enter school and start learning to read," Rich writes. Kris Perry, executive director of the First Five Years Fund, an advocate of early education for low-income children, told Rich, “That gap just gets bigger and bigger. That gap is very real and very hard to undo.”

Trying to get low-income children caught up hasn't been easy, Rich writes. "President Obama has called for the federal government to match state money to provide preschool for all 4-year-olds from low and moderate income families, a proposal in the budget that Congress voted to postpone negotiating until later this year. The administration is also offering state grants through its Race to the Top Program to support early childhood education. Critics argue, however, that with so few programs offering high-quality instruction, expanding the system will prove a waste of money and that the limited funds should be reserved for elementary and secondary education."

During the 2010-11 school year, 28 percent of all 4-year-olds in the country were in state-financed preschools, and only 3 percent of 3-year-olds were, Rich writes. "The National Governors Association, in a report this month calling on states to ensure that all children can read proficiently by third grade, urges lawmakers to increase access to high-quality child care and prekindergarten classes and to invest in programs for children from birth through age 5. Currently, 17 states and the District of Columbia have policies requiring that third graders be held back if they do not meet state reading proficiency standards, according to the Education Commission of the States." (Read more) (Census Bureau map)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i see this every day in the rural alabama area i live in. but i'm also a retired congressional staffer with years of experience on the committees involved with education. so much appropriated money for these programs is wasted and spent fraudulently -- one of the real horrows of education administration. and, of course, not just education.