#2015APPAM Student Summary: APPAM Presidential Address
by Ying-Chun Lin, PhD Candidate
University of Wisconsin
Dr. Jane Waldfogel started the address by reviewing the progress in poverty and disparities after 50 years of war on poverty and focused on the educational inequalities for today’s address. She then compared the U.S. with Canada, UK, and Australia, demonstrating how the U.S. does in terms of social mobility. Finally, policies in three domains were proposed to address the disparities in the U.S.
Poverty has not changed much using the official poverty measure over the past five decades. However, the poverty rates do improve overtime when using the supplemental income poverty measure. Progress has also been made to reduce inequalities in certain domains including nutrition, health, and civil right, although there are still many improvement needed in civil right area. On the other hand, educational inequalities among different socioeconomic (SES) groups have widened.
The gap between the 10th and 90th percentile income groups increased from two thirds of standard deviation to more than one standard deviation. This gap has contributed to the growing disparities in academic achievement, family resources, and family investment in children’s learning and education. Compared to the 1960, there are increasing number of younger mothers who have less education and income. Notably, families with high SES spend many more resources investing in their children’s enrichment and education that widens the gap.
Dr. Waldfogel and other authors of the book “Too Many Children Left Behind” conducted a cross-country study to compare the social mobility in four countries. The findings suggest that the U.S. is the most unequal country in terms of income and achievement disparities. The achievement gap between high and low SES children is as high as one standard deviation that would take more than one year for young children to catch up. Within the same achievement group comparison, children from medium or low SES families with high test scores in kindergarten, continue to fall significantly overtime. In comparison, children with similarly high scores from high SES families remain as high achieving students through middle school. Moreover, while some might suspect that schools also contribute to such disparities in achievement, the authors demonstrated that most of the gap between SES exists at the entrance to education.
Three types of policies are proposed to address educational inequalities. First, early childhood policies can provide more support for early learning that includes evidence-based parenting programs for infants and toddlers, as well as universal pre-K programs. Second, income support policies can raise income for poor and near-poor families as well as support working families. Third, educational policies can help improve the quality of teaching and learning by recruiting effective teachers, implementing rigorous curricula, and providing more support for low achieving students. While people embrace the “American Dream,” policy recommendations should be considered to help individuals achieve this goal.