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Money is the Root of All Learning: Commentary by Sean Reardon

Money is the Root of All Learning

Money is a significant factor in student success.  It may not be the entire reason, although through observation, experience, and studies we see it does affect growth of learning.  Despite all the good intentions, campaign promises, political gamesmanship, and strident school revivals, we have yet to have a Great Awakening in American education.  

Instead, we have hedged our bets on the Jesusification of the American teacher.  Bad teachers are not the reason.  Any politician from any party would be smart to admit this fact and capitalize on it for support.  Learning does not take place in the vacuum of a classroom, it is in as good of shape as a society's current political system, civic virtues, families, businesses, entertainment, and mindset.  

Poverty, transiency, spotty previous education, and the challenge of being a newcomer to a language are the big factors.  The following is a excerpt from a commentary in the New York Times by Professor Sean Reardon.  “Sean Reardon is professor of education and (by courtesy) sociology at Stanford University, specializing in research on the effects of educational policy on educational and social inequality.  His primary research examines the relative contribution of family, school, and neighborhood environments to ethnic and socioeconomic achievement disparities.”

No Rich Child Left Behind

“It may seem counterintuitive, but schools don’t seem to produce much of the disparity in test scores between high- and low-income students.  We know this because children from rich and poor families score very differently on school readiness tests when they enter kindergarten, and this gap grows by less than 10 percent between kindergarten and high school.  There is some evidence that achievement gaps between high- and low-income students actually narrow during the nine-month school year, but they widen again in the summer months.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t important differences in quality between schools serving low- and high-income students — there certainly are — but they appear to do less to reinforce the trends than conventional wisdom would have us believe.

If not the usual suspects, what’s going on?  It boils down to this: The academic gap is widening because rich students are increasingly entering kindergarten much better prepared to succeed in school than middle-class students.  This difference in preparation persists through elementary and high school.

My research suggests that one part of the explanation for this is rising income inequality.  As you may have heard, the incomes of the rich have grown faster over the last 30 years than the incomes of the middle class and the poor.  Money helps families provide cognitively stimulating experiences for their young children because it provides more stable home environments, more time for parents to read to their children, access to higher-quality child care and preschool and — in places like New York City, where 4-year-old children take tests to determine entry into gifted and talented programs — access to preschool test preparation tutors or the time to serve as tutors themselves.

But rising income inequality explains, at best, half of the increase in the rich-poor academic achievement gap.  It’s not just that the rich have more money than they used to, it’s that they are using it differently.  This is where things get really interesting.

High-income families are increasingly focusing their resources — their money, time and knowledge of what it takes to be successful in school — on their children’s cognitive development and educational success.  They are doing this because educational success is much more important than it used to be, even for the rich."  

For the complete article go to

We all may have known money impacts learning, the next step is what we can do about it.  The following links provide resources and tips for actions to take to improve your own learning, the learning of your own children, or that of your grandchildren, or employees.  

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