The Inequality Cycle

Achievement gaps in the US education system are an important cause of economic inequality, which is especially unfortunate when you consider that economic inequality is also a leading cause of achievement gaps in the US education system. Chad Alderman writes about the latest TIMSS results:

Despite this progress, the biggest difference in the scores of US students is not between countries, but rather remains within our own. In fourth grade math, the effect size of US students attending high-income versus low-income schools is 1.4 times as large as the difference between US students and the highest performing country. In science, the effect size by income is three times what it is between the US and the leading nation. Income gaps continue to persist at levels higher than all others, and that should be the real story out of these results.

In Finland, by contrast, they’ve happily gotten themselves onto the good equilibrium. Relatively low levels of background inequality and poverty make it relatively easy to deliver fairly egalitarian educational outcomes. Add to that a determination to target in-need students with a degree of extra resources, and this becomes even more the case. And those relatively egalitarian educational outcomes help maintain a relatively egalitarian distribution of wealth and income. Lather, rinse, and repeat. The United States, by contrast, is becoming more-and-more of a class-bound society in which parental SES dominates other factors in determining economic opportunities, helping to reinscribe patterns of inequality over and over again.