Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Obama Plans to Expand Early Education

I decided to separate out these 6 articles on a critically important issue that’s come to the forefront recently: the Obama administration’s push to expand early childhood education. Not surprisingly, the NYT is in favor (an article, editorial, and op ed below; articles 1-3) and the WSJ is opposed (an op ed and editorial below; articles 4-5). Plus a final, longer article from (of all places) Hawaii Business.

It seems that very comprehensive, expensive programs work – but will the current crop of much less comprehensive, cheaper programs work? It also seems clear that giving kids good pre-K, but then sticking them in horrible schools for the next 13 years wipes out almost all of the gains from even the best pre-K, so maybe this falls into the category of more spending in general: by itself, it does little; but married to genuine reform, it’s an important component.

In Alabama, a Model for Obama’s Push to Expand Preschool

President Obama’s call in his State of the Union address to “make high-quality preschool available to every single child in America” rallied advocates across the country who have long argued that inequity in education begins at a very young age.

In details that emerged early Thursday, the administration proposed that the federal government work with states to provide preschool for every 4-year-old from low- and moderate-income families. The president’s plan also calls for expanding Early Head Start, the federal program designed to prepare children from low-income families for school, to broaden quality childcare for infants and toddlers.
While supporters herald the plans as a way to help level the playing field for children who do not have the advantages of daily bedtime stories, music lessons and counting games at home, critics argue that federal money could be squandered on ineffective programs.

In the 2010-11 school year, the latest year for which data is available, 28 percent of all four-year-olds in the United States were enrolled in state-financed preschool programs, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research.

Getting Preschool Education Right

Even before the cost estimates and program details have been made public, President Obama’s proposal for expanding high-quality preschool education has encountered criticism from House Republicans. Yet decades of research has shown that well-designed preschool programs more than pay for themselves by giving young children the skills they need to move ahead. The challenge at the federal level will be to make sure that taxpayer dollars flow to proven, high-quality programs instead of being wasted on subsidies for glorified day care.

Countless studies have found that preschool education has real value, both for the children and for society as a whole. But design is obviously crucial. The most famous and frequently cited program was conducted at Perry Elementary School in Ypsilanti, Mich., during the 1960s, where the teachers focused on a creative process in which low-income children were encouraged to plan, initiate and discuss their learning activities. In addition to teaching the children for 2.5 hours during the school day, the teachers regularly visited their homes to reinforce the lessons and forge partnership with parents.

Capitalists for Preschool

IN his State of the Union addressPresident Obama called for making preschool available to every 4-year-old in America, opening a welcome discussion on whether and how to make the investments needed to realize this vision.

As two longtime corporate executives who have been engaged in education for decades, we have no doubt about the answer to this question. Children who attend high-quality preschool do much better when they arrive in kindergarten, and this makes an enormous difference for their later success. The data on preschool is overwhelmingly positive. Although some studies suggest that the positive impact decreases over time, this is mainly attributable to differences in the quality of preschool and of the schooling that follows — not a deficiency in preschool itself.

The effectiveness of quality early childhood education has been affirmed by many business-related groups, including ReadyNation, a coalition of business leaders, organized in 2006.

The Dispiriting Evidence on Preschool

President Obama has announced a cure for the country's social ills: universal preschool. It would help children "read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own," and also reduce teen pregnancy and violent crime, he said in his State of Union address. As evidence for these remarkable claims he pointed to Oklahoma and Georgia, the early adopters of universal preschool. But the real evidence from those states suggests that preschool doesn't deliver on even its most basic promises.

Oklahoma implemented its program in 1998 and is the pet of universal preschool activists because it's a red state that has diligently applied their playbook. It spends about $8,000 per preschooler, about the same as on K-12. Its teachers are credentialed, well-paid, abundant (one per 10 children) and use a professionally designed curriculum. Georgia expanded a pre-K program for high-risk children to all 4-year-olds in 1995.

Head Start for All

Government failure is hardly new, though President Obama has given it a characteristic new twist: A program's proven inability to do the things it is supposed to do is now an argument for expanding it. In our new progressive era, no program can ever end because the only reason government fails is that there wasn't enough government in the first place.

The 2009 stimulus, the greatest burst of spending in 30 years, produced the worst recovery in 80 years—so therefore we now need even more spending. The economy requires QE-infinity because it is still too weak despite years of historic monetary easing. The entitlement state is dysfunctional and unaffordable, so add another entitlement. Oh, and ObamaCare is supposed to be Washington's biggest attack on economic inequality in generations, yet we must create still more transfer payments in the name of the Gini coefficient.

There may not be a better illustration of this contradiction between intentions and results than Mr. Obama's new demand for free universal preschool.

This legislative session, as lawmakers debate a bill that would make preschool universal among Hawaii children, you may hear some outrageous claims from the advocates of early childhood education:
For a boy growing up in a poor, crime-ridden neighborhood, just a year or two of preschool will reduce the chance he’ll ever be arrested for rape by more than 50 percent. He’ll be less than a third as likely to commit assault. And he’ll collect $23,000 less in welfare over the course of his lifetime. For a poor girl, a whiff of preschool will double the likelihood she’ll finish high school. Her total lifetime earnings will increase by 36 percent. And she has a 57 percent better chance of owning her own home by the time she’s 40.

These grand pronouncements are in addition to the more plausible claims, such as early childhood education improves kids’ cognitive skills and prepares them better to learn once they get to school. That’s a lot to attribute to just a few hours a week of preschool. In other words, we had our doubts.

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Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Positive Results from Mathematica Study of KIPP

Some great news from a Mathematica study of KIPP – here’s KIPP CEO Richard Barth:

Dear KIPP Team and Family --

I want to take a moment to tell you about an important new independent report on KIPP.  

Today, Mathematica released its second report on KIPP middle schools—the most comprehensive and rigorous research on KIPP to date.  You can read the full report here, and the executive summary here. This report represents not only a new phase in Mathematica’s multi-year study of KIPP, but also a huge new opportunity for us to see where we are as a network.

Mathematica’s independent study of KIPP supports our commitment to transparency and research.  Through third-party research like this—along with our own annual Report Card and our Healthy Schools and Regions Initiative—we identify areas where we are fulfilling our mission and where we can improve.  Our network-wide commitment to research and evaluation is also crucial to our goal of serving as leaders in the education community at large and proving what is possible in public education for our students. 

Mathematica’s 2013 report expands on the analysis in the original 2010 report in several ways.  First, it examines nearly twice as many middle schools and twice as many academic subjects.   Mathematica also looks as additional measures of impact—including a national norm-referenced test and self-reported surveys on student and parent behavior and attitudes.  Most notably, Mathematica compared academic outcomes for students who got into KIPP via lottery with those who entered the lottery and didn’t get in.  This kind of analysis is considered the “gold standard” of educational research.

There are four key findings in this report around student achievement:   

1.      KIPP middle schools have positive and statistically significant impacts on student achievement across all years and all subject areas examined.  According to a matched comparison design study, KIPP students showed gains in math, reading, science, and social studies on state assessments.  This finding confirms that we have been able to maintain the quality of our middle schools as we have expanded our network. 

2.      The magnitude of KIPP’s achievement impacts is substantial. Across all grade levels and subjects studied, KIPP’s achievement impacts are large enough to be educationally significant.

3.      The matched comparison design produces estimates of KIPP’s achievement impacts similar to estimates of the same impacts based on an experimental, lottery-based design. Researchers found that KIPP’s achievement gains are similar for the matched comparison design and the experimental lottery analysis--demonstrating that parental motivation cannot explain our student’s achievement gains.

4.      In the lottery sample, average KIPP impacts on a nationally normed test that includes items assessing higher-order thinking skills were similar to impacts on high-stakes state tests. For students in the lottery sample, gains on the national norm referenced test mimicked those on state tests.

In addition to the academic findings, Mathematica found little evidence that we are attracting the most able students.  KIPP’s middle school students look very much like their neighborhood peers: non-white, low-achieving, and from low-income backgrounds.  The typical KIPP student’s test scores in math and reading are lower than the average in neighborhood feeder schools.  Mathematica also found that our students are less likely than their district peers to be designated Limited English Proficient or be receiving special education services.  We remain committed as a network to increasing the number of Limited English Proficient and Special Education students we serve.   

Mathematica also looked at self-reported surveys to see how KIPP is influencing attitudes and behaviors among both students and parents.  In the survey results, Mathematica found that KIPP students complete almost an hour more homework daily than they would at a non-KIPP school.  Mathematica also reported that KIPP students were more likely to self-report undesirable behavior like arguing with parents or giving teachers a hard time.  The report presents two potential reasons for this: students might engage in these behaviors more often, or KIPP’s culture might make them more likely to acknowledge these behaviors.

Finally, Mathematica looked at what makes individual KIPP schools successful. Although Mathematica found no one factor that determines a successful KIPP school, they did find two characteristics that were correlated with positive achievement gains.  First, KIPP schools with a strong school culture (as measured by comprehensive behavior systems) tend to be more successful. Second, KIPP schools that devoted relatively more time to core academic subjects had larger achievement gains, but given an already-extended school day, Mathematica did not find a positive relationship between longer schools days and improved academic results.   

I wanted to end by giving a huge shout out to our teachers, staff and school leaders across the network.   It is your hard work, passion, and dedication that has gotten us to this point. Mathematica’s findings both affirm the validity of our approach and identify areas for us to work on as network.   Now, with these new findings, we can move forward in our quest to prove the possible and change the life trajectory of our students.


Richard Barth
CEO|KIPP Foundation
Work hard. Be nice.

Here are links to some of the news coverage of this study:

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Gains for NYC Charters

Funny how the CREDO studies that make charter schools look bad get all sorts of press – but the ones that show great things about charter schools get much less attention. Here’s the great NYC news (similar to the first NYC a couple of years ago):

Students in New York City charter schools make larger learning gains, on average, in both reading and mathematics, according to a new report from Stanford University researchers. But the gains are much more pronounced in math.

The report by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) looked at nearly 20,000 students’ records from 79 schools. It relied on state data for six years of schooling, beginning with the 2005-2006 school year and concluding in 2010-2011, It compared students in grades 3 through 8 who transfer to charter schools to similar students who remained in the regular schools. The authors say they controlled for prior test scores and made sure the comparison group was similar in terms of gender, race, disabilities, family income and English language learner status.

Test scores were compared for students, and for whole schools. On average, charter students gained an additional one month of learning in reading over the course of a school year compared to their counterparts in district schools. Their advantage in math was much stronger: they gained an additional five months of learning over the course of a school year.

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CREDO Shows Massachusetts Charters Excel

CREDO showed even more incredible results in MA, especially Boston:

Students in charter schools in Massachusetts outperformed their regular public school counterparts in reading and math in the state, and students in charter schools in Boston experienced significantly higher learning gains in reading and math than students in regular public schools in the city, says a new study released by Stanford University's Center for 
Research on Education Outcomes, or CREDO.

Released in the wake of last week's report about charter schools in New York City, the study found that compared with the academic progress that students made in regular public schools, students in charter schools in Massachusetts gained an additional one and a half more months of learning per year in reading and an additional two and a half more months of learning per year in math. Students in Boston's charter schools gained 12 months of additional learning per year in reading and 13 months of additional learning in math compared with their regular public school counterparts.

"The average growth rate of Boston charter students in math and reading is the largest CREDO has seen in any city or state thus far," Edward Cremata, a research associate and co-author of the Massachusetts study, said in a press release. The study examined performance data for grades 3 to 8 and 10.

Eighty-three percent of charter schools in Boston significantly outperformed their regular public school counterparts, and none of the charter schools performed significantly worse than the regular district schools.

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Study Shows NYC Charters Excel

This NYT editorial on charter schools is REALLY important, especially when combined with 1-3 above. If you add up all of the studies, I think it’s hard to make a compelling case that the average charter school in this country is better than the average closest public school – but I’m still a huge champion of charter schools for a variety of reasons: a) the national averages are skewed by the states with crappy charter laws like Ohio and Texas. They make it easy to get a charter so, not surprisingly, they have the greatest number of charters. States with rigorous charter laws like NY and MA have MUCH BETTER THAN AVERAGE charters – but fewer of them; b) while we have a long way to go to create real accountability for either regular public schools or charter schools (in terms of improving lousy schools, and if they don’t improve, shutting them down), I think in most states there’s more accountability for charters; and c) most importantly, the top 10-20% of charters are doing AMAZING things – they’re truly laboratories of innovation, black swans, and are changing the national (and state and local) debate on what’s possible educationally for the most disadvantaged kids (see page 89 of my school reform presentation here).

So as a movement, we have to move to a new level, where we stop fighting for ALL charter schools and start fighting only for GOOD charter schools (funding, facilities, ease of replication) – and fighting even harder than our enemies to shut down crappy charters that give our movement a bad name. This NYT editorial has it right (my emphasis added):

From a national standpoint, the 20-year-old charter school movement has been a disappointment. More than a third of these independently run, publicly funded schools are actually worse than the traditional public schools they were meant to replace. Abysmal charter schools remain open for years, even though the original deal was that they would be shut down when they failed to perform. New York City’s experience, however, continues to be an exception.

For the second time in three years, a rigorous study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes shows that the typical New York City charter school student learns more in a year in reading and math than his or her peers in their neighborhood district schools. The difference, over a typical year, amounts to about a month’s more learning in reading — and a whopping five months’ more learning in math.
That is good news, especially given the fact that about three-quarters of the city’s charter school children come from poor families. But a mixed picture emerged when the Stanford researchers measured charter schools on students’ learning growth (year-to-year improvement) as well as their overall achievement, as compared with the city as whole.
The data show that not all charter schools shared equally in the gains in reading. Nearly half, in fact, turned out to be slow-growth schools that may not be helping low-achieving students improve their reading skills quickly enough. This could lead to those students falling further and further behind.

The Stanford center rocked the education world in 2009 with a national study finding that only 17 percent of charter schools offered students a better education, as measured by test scores, and that an astounding 37 percent offered a worse one. Against this standard, New York is doing well, according to the new study, especially in math, where 63 percent of the charter schools studied outperformed their traditional district schools and only 14 percent performed worse. In reading, however, only 22 percent of the charter schools outpaced their public school counterparts, while 25 percent lagged behind their peer district schools.

The new Stanford study, which covers charter school performance from 2006 to 2011, does not explain New York’s overall success. But the city has some clear advantages over other places. It has a rigorous process for licensing charters and strong oversight. It gives charter operators free school space and provides administrative support so that they can more easily comply with state and federal laws. The city is also a magnet for education talent, drawing successful charter school management organizations, like Kipp and Uncommon Schools, that can replicate good instructional techniques. According to the Stanford researchers, 30 percent of New York’s children in charters are enrolled in schools run by management organizations, as opposed to about 20 percent nationally.

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Levin High School Closing in NYC

A front page NYT story last week on the proposed (and, as always, highly controversial) closing of a failing school (its graduation rate is 31%, the fifth-lowest in NYC). What makes is particularly poignant is that it’s named after a murdered teacher, the son of a prominent businessperson.

Now, just a decade after it opened, New York has deemed Levin High School a failure, and is preparing to close it down.

Closing schools, and replacing them with new ones, has become a hallmark of education reform efforts around the country, promoted by the Obama administration and embraced by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who has shuttered 142 of them since taking office in 2002 and, in his final year, is moving to close 24 more. The central, free-market premise is that schools that fail to deliver should not be permitted to continue, and that their buildings could be better used to experiment with new ideas, often with new personnel.

The policy has been repeatedly criticized by teachers’ unions, and is now also under attack by several Democratic candidates for mayor, who in varying degrees have all pledged to slow or halt the process of closing schools. Civil-rights groups have filed complaints with the federal Education Department asserting that the policy has a disproportionate effect on black and Hispanic students.
The critics contend that school systems like New York’s are more interested in letting schools fail, to accelerate the process of creating new schools, than in helping struggling schools, and the students in them, succeed.

Closing schools is a big, complex issue but ultimately it’s necessary for schools that have been failing to educate the great majority of students, year in and year out. A simple question for the many people in this article who are decrying the closure: would you EVER, in a million years, let YOUR child in this school??? Of course not! So why are you fighting to keep other peoples’ kids trapped there?!?!

We also need to move away from the “closure” language. The school isn’t been razed – the building stays and remains a school – it’s just the adults who are failing to properly educate the children who lose the PRIVILEDGE of educating children, replaced by those who have a better track record of doing so. And if they fail, they will get replaced.

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LA School Board Vote Effects All School Districts

Following up on my recent email about LA Mayor Villaraigosa, here’s a big story in today’s NYT about the LA school board races (the vote is tomorrow). This is REALLY important – and has implications far beyond LA. School boards still control nearly all school districts and most people aren’t aware of how the unions over the years have carefully rigged the system, not only by using their money and votes, but by scheduling school board elections off cycle so that the turnout is in the single digits. Effectively, then, they are electing the very people who are sitting across the table from them in negotiations – hmmm, I wonder how THAT type of negotiation turns out??? Answer: lousy for kids and lousy for taxpayers – and an Alice-in-Wonderland sh*tshow of a school system in district after district. Reforms have had some real success when they’ve challenged the union-appointed school board candidates – for example, DFER in Denver – so let’s hope that continues tomorrow in LA:

On Tuesday, voters in Los Angeles will go to the polls for a mayoral primary. But much of the attention will also be on the three races for the school board, a battle that involves the mayor, the teachers’ union and a host of advocates from across the country — including New York City’s billionaire mayor — who have poured millions of dollars into the races.

The outcome of the political fight for the school board seats will have a profound impact on the direction of the nation’s second-largest school district. But the clash has also become a sort of test case for those who want to overhaul public education, weakening the power of the teachers’ union, pushing for more charter schools and changing the way teachers are hired and fired.
After years of pressing to take power away from local school boards, some advocates have directed their money and attention directly to school boards in the hope that they will support their causes, as unions have done in the past.

Last month, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York City donated $1 million to a coalition formed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles to help elect candidates who will support the current superintendent and the policy changes he has promoted. Students First, a national advocacy organization created by Michelle A. Rhee, the former schools chancellor in Washington, donated $250,000 to the same cause.

So far, the total spending from outside groups, including the teachers’ union, has reached $4.4 million as of Friday, according to the city’s ethics commission.

I love the quote from the union boss:

The union has spent nearly $450,000 to help elect its candidates, but Mr. Fletcher bristles at the involvement of Mr. Bloomberg, Ms. Rhee and others from outside Los Angeles and their attempt to influence the results.

“We don’t elect a superintendent, but school board races are a way to take the temperature of whether people like the direction schools are going in,” Mr. Fletcher said. “This is a race for Los Angeles, not the school board race of America. It would be really tragic if the voices are drowned out by folks who have no sense of what is going on here to begin with.”

Translation: “We’re used to running the show with no opposition from anyone, so we REALLY, REALLY hate it when someone stands up for what’s best for kids, rather than the union.”

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All LA Mayor Candidates in Favor of Parent Trigger

Reform has really taken hold in LA, despite the union’s best efforts – to the extent that EVERY mayoral candidate is in favor of the Parent Trigger, which is a third-rail issue for the union. If only NYC’s mayoral candidates were so bold!

All Candidates for Los Angeles Mayor Now Publicly Support Parent Trigger 

Los Angeles, Calif – Wednesday, February 27, 2013 – All the candidates for mayor of Los Angeles have now publicly stated their support for ‘Parent Trigger’ and its use by parents in failing schools.

At today’s United Way of Greater Los Angeles Education Summit being held at the Los Angeles Convention Center, mayoral candidates Eric Garcetti, Wendy Greuel and Kevin James all endorsed ‘Parent Trigger’ as a way to give parents a seat at the decision-making table for their child’s education.

“Today is another historic moment for the ‘Parent Trigger’ movement,” said Ben Austin, Parent Revolution’s executive director.

"This is an idea that didn't exist during the last mayoral election, and just a few years ago was considered too radical for mainstream politicians to embrace. Now it's radical not to endorse the simple idea that parents should have power over the educational destiny of their own children.” 
"We thank Mayor Villaraigosa for his courageous leadership in the ‘Parent Trigger’ movement.  And we look forward to working with the next mayor to build this movement and to force the Los Angeles Unified School District to serve the interests of children rather than the interests of powerful adults," Austin said.

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NYC Changing Gifted Entry Exams Due to Test Prep

Test prep for 4-year-olds to help them get into the most competitive, selective public schools – yet all critics can decry is how supposedly selective charter schools are…

Assessing students has always been a fraught process, especially 4-year-olds, a mercurial and unpredictable lot by nature, who are vying for increasingly precious seats in kindergarten gifted programs.

In New York, it has now become an endless contest in which administrators seeking authentic measures of intelligence are barely able to keep ahead of companies whose aim is to bring out the genius in every young child.

The city’s leading private schools are even considering doing away with the test they have used for decades, popularly known as the E.R.B., after the Educational Records Bureau, the organization that administers the exam, which is written by Pearson.

“It’s something the schools know has been corrupted,” said Dr. Samuel J. Meisels, an early-childhood education expert who gave a presentation in the fall to private school officials, encouraging them to abandon the test. Excessive test preparation, he said, “invalidates inferences that can be drawn” about children’s “learning potential and intellect and achievement.”

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Gifted Classes Race Imbalance

Lisa Fleisher, who continues to do GREAT writing on the ed beat for the WSJ, with an article in today’s paper about how the vast majority of NYC’s gifted-and-talented program students are white and Asian:

As New York City switches to a new test to identify children for its gifted-and-talented program, new data show that the overwhelming majority of these coveted, public-school slots still go to white and Asian students.

More than 70% of the students in the 110 gifted-and-talented programs across the city this school year are white or Asian, though they make up a third of the general elementary-school student population. Students who are black, Hispanic or another race make up 29% of the gifted-and-talented population, though they are two-thirds of elementary-school students in district schools.
The gulf is even wider in four of the Department of Education's five elite citywide programs for the gifted, such as the Anderson School on the Upper West Side. Nearly 84% of Anderson's gifted students are white or Asian, according to data the city released late on Friday in response to a public records request by The Wall Street Journal.

The gifted-and-talented programs educate more than 14,500 children—or about 3% of the city's kindergarten-through-fifth-graders—who are admitted based on their scores on special standardized tests. The programs offer tougher work, more exposure to literature and advanced skills, and they are often seen as setting students up for a life of higher academic success.

As I’ve written before, this is a REALLY tough problem. Any program like this will be hugely over-represented by students who come from wealthier households with two parents, with access to books, test prep, tutors, etc. – which means far more white and Asian students. But if you kill these programs altogether, you just accelerate the flight of the families with the most influence, resources, etc. to change the system. The answer, of course, is to provide a quality education for ALL students, not just the top 3% -- then it wouldn’t matter so much.

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Joseph Stiglitz on Unequal Education System

Following up on the previous two articles, Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz shows how the US, thanks largely to its unequal education system, is now one of the developed countries with the LEAST equality of opportunity – a true national disgrace!

Perhaps a hundred years ago, America might have rightly claimed to have been the land of opportunity, or at least a land where there was more opportunity than elsewhere. But not for at least a quarter of a century. Horatio Alger-style rags-to-riches stories were not a deliberate hoax, but given how they’ve lulled us into a sense of complacency, they might as well have been.

It’s not that social mobility is impossible, but that the upwardly mobile American is becoming a statistical oddity. According to research from the Brookings Institution, only 58 percent of Americans born into the bottom fifth of income earners move out of that category, and just 6 percent born into the bottom fifth move into the top. Economic mobility in the United States is lower than in most of Europe and lower than in all of Scandinavia.

Another way of looking at equality of opportunity is to ask to what extent the life chances of a child are dependent on the education and income of his parents. Is it just as likely that a child of poor or poorly educated parents gets a good education and rises to the middle class as someone born to middle-class parents with college degrees? Even in a more egalitarian society, the answer would be no. But the life prospects of an American are more dependent on the income and education of his parents than in almost any other advanced country for which there is data.

How do we explain this? Some of it has to do with persistent discrimination. Latinos and African-Americans still get paid less than whites, and women still get paid less than men, even though they recently surpassed men in the number of advanced degrees they obtain. Though gender disparities in the workplace are less than they once were, there is still a glass ceiling: women are sorely underrepresented in top corporate positions and constitute a minuscule fraction of C.E.O.’s.

Discrimination, however, is only a small part of the picture. Probably the most important reason for lack of equality of opportunity is education: both its quantity and quality. After World War II, Europe made a major effort to democratize its education systems. We did, too, with the G.I. Bill, which extended higher education to Americans across the economic spectrum.

But then we changed, in several ways. While racial segregation decreased, economic segregation increased. After 1980, the poor grew poorer, the middle stagnated, and the top did better and better. Disparities widened between those living in poor localities and those living in rich suburbs — or rich enough to send their kids to private schools. A result was a widening gap in educational performance — the achievement gap between rich and poor kids born in 2001 was 30 to 40 percent larger than it was for those born 25 years earlier, the Stanford sociologist Sean F. Reardon found.

Of course, there are other forces at play, some of which start even before birth. Children in affluent families get more exposure to reading and less exposure to environmental hazards. Their families can afford enriching experiences like music lessons and summer camp. They get better nutrition and health care, which enhance their learning, directly and indirectly.

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