Policy & Research

Report: Zero Change in Student Achievement Gap over 50-Year Period

A new report finds a persistent achievement gap is present among students despite advancements in educational funding.

Report: Zero Change in Student Achievement Gap over 50-Year Period

While investments in elementary and secondary education has quadrupled from 1960 to 2015, the persistent student achievement gap between the haves and have-nots has remained, according to new study by Stanford University and Harvard University researchers in the journal Education Next.  There have been steady gains in student achievement up to the eighth-grade level, but the gains don't translate into success at the end of high school.

"The startling part of this study was not that there were large gaps in the starting period in 1970, but that these gaps have not changed one whit over the almost half century that we have been able to track performance. The gap that we saw in 1970 is the same gap that we saw in 2015," said Eric A. Hanushek, a fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University and the lead author of the report.

The researchers attribute the continued divide to different characteristics in the socioeconomic status of students cancelling each other out.  When it comes to family background, the average age of the mother at the birth of a child has increased over the past 50 years, but there has also been an increase in the number of single-parent households which are likely concentrated "at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum."

The federal government has made significant investments in elementary and secondary education through Head Start, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. States have also introduced measures to make schools accountable for student performance such as the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act.

However, report author Paul E. Peterson, a professor of government and the director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University, said the gap could be attributed to a possible decline in the quality of the teaching workforce.

"As women have had more opportunities to work elsewhere, women are 75 percent of the teaching profession even yet today.  When women have opportunities to work in fields where they are rewarded for their productivity, they are going to leave [a] field ... where they are paid on the basis of their credentials and the number of years that they have been working," said Peterson, who is also a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Hanushek and Peterson encourage other researchers to explore how programs and policies at scale have directly enhanced teacher quality and to investigate how the achievement gains made by students at age 14 fade away by the age 17.

 The full article on the published study can be found here.

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe covering education policy and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

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