Too Many Children Left Behind

Too Many Children Left Behind: The U.S. Achievement Gap in Comparative Perspective

Bruce Bradbury
Miles Corak
Jane Waldfogel
Elizabeth Washbrook
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 224
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7758/9781610448482
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Too Many Children Left Behind
    Book Description:

    The belief that with hard work and determination, all children have the opportunity to succeed in life is a cherished part of the American Dream. Yet, increased inequality in America has made that dream more difficult for many to obtain. InToo Many Children Left Behind, an international team of social scientists assesses how social mobility varies in the United States compared with Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Bruce Bradbury, Miles Corak, Jane Waldfogel, and Elizabeth Washbrook show that the academic achievement gap between disadvantaged American children and their more advantaged peers is far greater than in other wealthy countries, with serious consequences for their future life outcomes. With education the key to expanding opportunities for those born into low socioeconomic status families,Too Many Children Left Behindhelps us better understand educational disparities and how to reduce them.

    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 Behindis a timely study that uses global evidence to show how the United States can do more to level the playing field.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-848-2
    Subjects: Education, Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. About the Authors
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. Chapter 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    The american dream—the idea that all children should be able to succeed regardless of the economic circumstances into which they were born—is widely shared by parents in the United States, as well as in many other countries. Parents want the best for their children, and society as a whole has an interest in seeing all children reach their fullest potential without being held back by the circumstances of their birth.

    But is the American Dream a reality? Is it a reality for just some and not others? If the American Dream is not widely attainable, what can the...

  7. Chapter 2 The Meaning and Measurement of Equal Opportunity
    (pp. 21-39)

    If we are to determine whether the United States is living up to its dream of opportunity for all, we must first define what we mean by “equal opportunity” and how it might be measured. We do so in this chapter, drawing on the work of the political economist John Roemer, on gaps in outcomes and equality of opportunity, and the work of the philosopher and legal scholar Joseph Fishkin, on the process through which gaps evolve over time, potentially resulting in “bottlenecks” at certain stages of development.

    We also provide a first look from our data at the distribution...

  8. Chapter 3 Resources for Children
    (pp. 40-66)

    Although they use different terms to describe them, psychologists, sociologists, and economists agree that a variety of resources are critical for child development. This chapter describes the role of resources in child development and then sketches the situation of children from different family backgrounds—in terms of the resources they receive in early childhood—in our four countries. We focus in particular on the role played by three main sources of support—families, employers, and the government—in providing resources for children. Just how is the balance between these sources struck, and what does it imply for the resources available...

  9. Chapter 4 Gaps at School Entry
    (pp. 67-86)

    As we saw in chapter 3, our children start life in very different families, both within and across countries. What does this mean in terms of the skills they have developed by the time they enter school? In this chapter, we use the detailed assessments of developmental outcomes undertaken in the surveys in our four countries to describe inequalities in children’s skills at school entry as well as some of the factors that might help explain these inequalities.

    We find that inequalities in children’s cognitive skills at school entry are significantly larger in the United States than they are in...

  10. Chapter 5 Gaps in the School Years
    (pp. 87-110)

    As we saw in chapter 4, the children in our four countries come to school with very different family backgrounds—and very unequal skills—particularly children in the United States, where the early language, reading, and math skills of children from low-SES families are a full standard deviation behind those of children from high-SES families. What happens to that gap—and the gaps in other countries—if we look in on children in later grades?

    Making use of the repeated assessments of the children in our four countries to describe inequalities in children’s achievement by family socioeconomic status at three...

  11. Chapter 6 Diverging Progress Through School
    (pp. 111-130)

    We saw in chapter 5 that SES gaps in children’s school achievement are large at school entry and after several years of school, and that these gaps tend to be larger in the United States than in the other three countries. But the snapshots of children’s average achievement by SES at ages five, seven/nine, and eleven cannot tell us about their trajectories after they begin school and the role of SES in their school-age development. One possibility is that the role of SES operates entirely through its influence on a child’s level of achievement at school entry. In this scenario,...

  12. Chapter 7 What the United States Can Do to Reduce the SES Gap in Achievement
    (pp. 131-154)

    The preceding chapters have made clear that the United States has a problem with equality of opportunity.

    Our data show the United States to have the least equality of opportunity across our four countries. Gaps in cognitive development between children from less-versus more-advantaged families are large already at school entry, and they remain large as children move through school. These gaps signal greater inequality among children in the United States both in early childhood and in the school years.

    These childhood gaps have lifelong consequences. Other data show this greater inequality continuing into later adolescence and adulthood, and indeed, the...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 155-174)
  14. References
    (pp. 175-196)
  15. Index
    (pp. 197-205)