Kids in poor, urban schools learn just as much as others

Posted on October 12, 2019

Many schools have since moved away from evaluating schools by test scores, instead using a ‘growth’ or ‘value added’ measure to see how much students learn over a calendar year. While growth models are considered by researchers to be a big improvement over using test scores at one point in time, they still do not account for the summers – during which the more advantaged don’t backtrack their learning the way children from more disadvantaged areas often do.

This ‘summer loss’ for disadvantaged students is not surprising, given the difficulties they face with issues like family instability and food insecurity. However, when the more disadvantaged students go back to school – the learning gap essentially disappears. They tend to learn at the same rate as those from the wealthier, suburban schools.
Downey and his colleagues used data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study -- Kindergarten Cohort 2010-2011, which involved more than 17,000 students in 230 schools around the country. This study used a subsample of about 3,000 of the children who participated.

Children took reading tests at the beginning and end of kindergarten and near completion of their first and second grades. That allowed the researchers to calculate how much children learned during three school periods and compare that to what happened during the summers. The results showed that children in schools serving disadvantaged students, on average, saw their reading scores rise about as much during the school year as did those in more advantaged schools.

That doesn't mean all schools were equally good, Downey said. But the findings showed that the "good" schools weren't all concentrated in the wealthier areas and the "bad" schools in the poor areas. Instead of being "engines of inequality" -- as some have argued -- this new research suggests schools are neutral or even slightly compensate for inequality elsewhere.

Disadvantaged kids start with poorer home environments and neighborhoods and begin school behind students who come from wealthier backgrounds, Downey said."But when they go to school, they stop losing ground. That doesn't agree with the traditional story about how schools supposedly add to inequality," he said. "With more investments, it may be possible to create schools that play a more active role in reducing inequality."

Source material from Science Daily

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