Do you know that families with children made nearly twice as much income in Passaic County than in Paterson? The new census shows that the median income [the mid point: half make more; half make less] for a Paterson family with children was $29,500; the median for Passaic County was $57,250. The gap was even wider for NJ families with children: the median statewide is $83,280. Why do I bring this up?
Today’s New York Times’ article “Education Gap Grows Between Rich and Poor, Studies Say” makes a critical point. The gap between black and white students is narrowing; but the gap between rich and poor is widening.
From the article:
“One reason for the growing gap in achievement, researchers say, could be that wealthy parents invest more time and money than ever before in their children (in weekend sports, ballet, music lessons, math tutors, and in overall involvement in their children’s schools), while lower-income families, which are now more likely than ever to be headed by a single parent, are increasingly stretched for time and resources.”
“Meredith Phillips, an associate professor of public policy and sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles, used survey data to show that affluent children spend 1,300 more hours than low-income children before age 6 in places other than their homes, their day care centers, or schools (anywhere from museums to shopping malls). By the time high-income children start school, they have spent about 400 hours more than poor children in literacy activities, she found.”
A family income of $29,500, before taxes, leaves very little money for the ballet lessons, music lessons and math tutors that wealthier families take for granted. So our children come to school with fewer experiences, fewer words and a smaller world.
Quoting the article again. ‘Douglas J. Besharov, a fellow at the Atlantic Council, says “No one has the slightest idea what will work. The cupboard is bare.”’
Those of us who are community schools and arts education and informal science advocates are surprised by this. We know better. Our cupboard is filled with ideas. Our children are as smart and capable as any other children. They will achieve when given the supports they need to succeed. Rich, varied curriculum in schools, extended days and community based activities that support both children and their families narrow the gap.
The question is, do we really want to narrow the gap?