Do Americans today believe it is fair for children from wealthy families to have greater opportunities to learn than children from poorer families? Few would say so. Most of us would say, most of us believe, that children at every income level should have an equal opportunity to learn.
But this chart of 8th grade reading data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress — “The Nation’s Report Card” — shows an enormous gap in student reading proficiency based on family income.
After eight years in school, students from low-income families – those that are eligible to receive free and reduced-priced meals through the National School Lunch Program – have between one-third and a half the likelihood of reading at or above Proficient as those from families with higher incomes. This holds true for Black, Hispanic, White and Asian students.
Our public education system was founded to create a level playing field, so that all children would have an equal opportunity to learn, prosper and thrive. How have we reached the point where the quality of the education a child receives is determined by the quantity of income available to his or her parents?
It is time to return to the vision of the Founders: a first-class public education system for all children.