Why American Schools Are Even More Unequal Than We Thought
Education is deeply unequal in the United States, with students in poor districts performing at levels several grades below those of children in richer areas.
Yet the problem is actually much worse than these statistics show, because schools, districts and even the federal government have been using a crude yardstick for economic hardship.
A closer look reveals that the standard measure of economic disadvantage — whether a child is eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch in school — masks the magnitude of the learning gap between the richest and poorest children.
Nearly half of students nationwide are eligible for a subsidized meal in school. Children whose families earn less than 185 percent of the poverty threshold are eligible for a reduced-price lunch, while those below 130 percent get a free lunch. For a family of four, the cutoffs are $32,000 for a free lunch and $45,000 for a reduced-price one. By way of comparison, median household income in the United States was about $54,000 in 2014.
Eligibility for subsidized school meals is clearly a blunt indicator of economic status. But that is the measure that policy makers, educators and researchers rely on when they gauge gaps in academic achievement in schools, districts and states.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress, often called the Nation’s Report Card, publishes student scores by eligibility for subsidized meals. Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act and its successor, the Every Student Succeeds Act, districts have reported scores separately for disadvantaged children, with eligibility for subsidized meals serving as the standard measure of disadvantage.
With Katherine Michelmore, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Michigan, I have analyzed data held by the Michigan Consortium for Educational Research and found that this measure substantially understates the achievement gap.
In Michigan, as in the rest of the country, about half of eighth graders in public schools receive a free or reduced-price lunch. But when we look more closely, we see that just 14 percent have been eligible for subsidized meals Why American Schools Are Even More Unequal Than We Thought - The New York Times: