Income, Parental Education Linked to Pre-School Learning Gaps

Courtney Williams's picture
Wednesday, December 21, 2011

As states revamp their early childhood education to grab a slice of federal education dollars, some education experts are urging policymakers to look outside the classroom to improve educational opportunites for the country's youngsters.

Just as Obama awarded over $500 million in state grants to improve pre-K, the Brookings Institution released a report arguing more attention paid to family background factors such as poverty and maternal education would help improve educational outcomes for our littlest learners.

The report argued that gaps in children's ability to learn begin long before they enter the classroom -- and that those gaps can have lasting effects on class mobility.

"If you look at kids with parents in the bottom 20 percent, their chances of remaining in the bottom 20 percent are very high," said Julia Isaacs, a Brookings fellow and one of the paper's authors. "How is it that children of low-income parents don’t succeed as well as other children?"

The paper found that parental income is strongly linked to academic performance, even when accounting for other background factors, such as gender and race. The paper found each additional $10,000 in annual parental income throughout early childhood gave kids the equivalent of slightly over one more month of learning.

The paper also found ties between maternal learning and student achievement: An additional year of a mother's schooling was equivalent to about half month of additional learning, as gauged by test scores. The report is the first to have linked maternal learning and income to school readiness on a national scale while controlling for other factors.

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