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Income Distribution and School Outcomes

You don't have to be an economist to recognize something is terribly wrong with the argument that concern about the lopsided income picture in this country is overwrought ("Obama's Misguided Obsession With Inequality," The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 23).  But since this column is about education, I'll confine my remarks to schools.

Study after study has shown a strong link between student poverty and student performance. There are those who claim that poverty in this country is not nearly as bad as believed ("The Mismeasure of Poverty," The New York Times, Sept. 17).  They do so by noting the Census Bureau's definition, which excludes taxes, transfer payments, nutrition assistance, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and employee benefits such as health insurance. 

That's debatable on its face, but when it comes to schools the facts are indisputable.  Education Department data show that poor children enter kindergarten already three months behind the national average in reading and math, and never catch up. Regardless of government assistance that poor families receive, they cannot possibly provide their children with the benefits wealth brings.

The already rich are getting richer, and their children are getting a superior education, while everyone else gets relatively poorer, and their children get a substandard education ("No Rich Child Left Behind," The New  York Times, Apr. 28).  Do some children manage to overcome their impoverished backgrounds?  Of course. But they are exceptions.  

It's time to acknowledge that Social Darwinism and the trickle-down theory have not worked. I recognize the importance of economic growth, but if the income generated is not more fairly distributed, then I don't see how growth can be sustained.  This is bound to have an inordinate impact on education in this country.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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