Series: About Early Math

U.S. Achievement Gap Begins in the Early Years

Jane Waldfogel, one of the authors of Too Many Children Left Behind: The U.S. Achievement Gap in Comparative Perspective, discusses the problems that many children face growing up in the United States. Remarkably and troublingly, children from low-income families enter preschool already one year behind their more affluent peers.

While this achievement gap is not unique to the United States, it is much more pronounced here. Waldfogel affirms that there are likely many reasons behind this, from unstable family structures to cutbacks in government assistance programs. These variables can distract children from making the important logical gains that occur during the early years.

One variable that is easier to control, and that Waldfogel suggests is a good starting point for tackling this problem, is early childhood education. “The two [policies] that we really emphasize,” she says, “are evidence-based parenting programs and high quality preschool for three and four-year olds.” She goes on to explain what the implementation of these programs might entail: “recruiting, supporting, and more adequately compensating effective teachers, implementing a more rigorous curriculum, and setting a higher standard and level of support for lower achieving students.”