Analyzing data on 8,000 school children in the United States, the authors demonstrate that disadvantages that begin early in life have long-lasting effects on academic performance. The social inequalities that children experience before they start school contribute to a large gap in test scores between low- and high-SES students later in life. Many children from low-SES backgrounds lack critical resources, including books, high-quality child care, and other goods and services that foster the stimulating environment necessary for cognitive development. The authors find that not only is a child’s academic success deeply tied to his or her family background, but that this class-based achievement gap does not narrow as the child proceeds through school.
The authors compare test score gaps from the United States with those from three other countries and find smaller achievement gaps and greater social mobility in all three, particularly in Canada. The wider availability of public resources for disadvantaged children in those countries facilitates the early child development that is fundamental for academic success. All three countries provide stronger social services than the United States, including universal health insurance, universal preschool, paid parental leave, and other supports. The authors conclude that the United States could narrow its achievement gap by adopting public policies that expand support for children in the form of tax credits, parenting programs, and pre-K.
With economic inequalities limiting the futures of millions of children, Too Many Children Left Behind is a timely study that uses global evidence to show how the United States can do more to level the playing field.