Harvard University professor, Paul E. Peterson, and Janice Riddell from External Relations for Education Next recently released an analysis of a paper by a Broader, Bolder Approach co-chair, Professor Helen F. Ladd at Duke University.  Peterson challenges the BBA, which is frequently heralded by education reform leaders and often calls for the redistribution of income and the providing of more support services for economically disadvantaged children outside the school day.  While he acknowledges a connection between income and student performance, he asserts that this connection is not caused by the low income but due to other factors.  He points to another study by the Brookings Institution (2011) that found that the impact “between family income and education success for children varied between negligible and small.”

In response to those who cite the growing reading achievement gaps from children from the lowest and highest incomes, he notes “that the achievement gap between income groups was growing at exactly the same time the federal government was rapidly expanding services to the poor – Medicaid, food stamps, Head Start, housing subsidies, and many other programs.”  Peterson believes that changes in the family structure over the years is the reason for the continuing decline in achievement.

Peterson points out that the things that have improved student achievement of the lowest income families have had the most impact.  School reforms, such as “merit pay, school vouchers, and student and school accountability, have been shown to have had equivalent or larger impacts” than things like “expanded social services, preschool, and summer programs…”  He reports that “Initiatives to improve teacher quality have the potential of raising student performance by 10 to 20 percent of a standard deviation.”

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