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Education Forum

Beating the Odds: Early Childhood Education & Literacy Skills

Across the country, data suggests that sizable racial and ethnic differences in standardized test scores are present on the first day of kindergarten—and in New York City public schools. Our research suggests those inequalities don’t decrease over time. How can NYC change the odds and narrow those differences so that more children succeed in school?

A key finding of our research has been the persistence of achievement gaps. Our research cites the findings of the Research Alliance for New York City Schools on college readiness: overall, the numbers went up. But there were wide and persistent gaps among gender and race subgroups.

  • Our cohort study shows substantial racial/ethnic disparities in academic performance that can be traced back to at least third grade. The average white third grader scored at the 75th percentile on the ELA, while black and Hispanic third graders who performed at roughly the 40th percentile. These gaps did not narrow over time; instead, the early inequalities grew somewhat larger by eighth grade. The cohort thus began high school with substantial racial/ethnic performance gaps.
  • And these gaps matter: the cohort study also showed that, despite some positive movement, only 2.7% of students who failed to meet the third-grade English Language Arts (ELA) standard went on to meet or exceed the ELA benchmark in eighth grade, and only one in three of the students who failed to meet the third-grade ELA standard graduated from high school.

While NYC public schools clearly have limited capacity to address inequalities that formed prior to students’ entry in the school system, mayoral control may give them an edge in pressing for early education. But, expanding early childhood education is a heavy expense.  Is this the investment that is worth it? From where could the funds for it come?

And even with great early education, some kids will need extra help. Others may enter the school system later than third grade, with poor reading skills or even without English. What strategies should the next administration institute to ensure that children at every level and every grade are given opportunities and supports to improve their reading and improve their chances of academic success?

Read responses from Ron Fairchild, Dr. W. Steven Barnett, Michael Rebell, Catherine Snow, Jon Snyder, David Deming and Hank Levin.