Long-run Trends in the U.S. SES-Achievement Gap
Rising inequality in the United States has raised concerns about potentially widening gaps in educational achievement by socio-economic status (SES). Using assessments from LTT-NAEP, Main-NAEP, TIMSS, and PISA that are psychometrically linked over time, we trace trends in achievement for U.S. student cohorts born between 1954 and 2001. Achievement gaps between the top and bottom quartiles of the SES distribution have been large and remarkably constant for a near half century. These unwavering gaps have not been offset by improved achievement levels, which have risen at age 14 but have remained unchanged at age 17 for the past quarter century.
Helpful comments were received from Markus Broer, Greg Duncan, Glenn Ellison, John Klopfer, Magne Mogstad, Richard Murnane, Sean Reardon, Danish Shakeel, Abhijeet Singh, Chris Taber, and participants at the annual meetings of the American Economic Association and the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management, the IRP Summer Research Workshop at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the CESifo Economics of Education conference in Munich, and the Hoover Economic Policy Lunch at Stanford. This is a revised and refined version of Hanushek, Peterson, Talpey, and Woessmann (2019). The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Paul E. Peterson
Paul Peterson received support from the Charles Koch Foundation.