April 27, 2018

It’s not hard to see the achievement gap in education. Students from lower-income backgrounds on average score lower on their SATs and are less likely to graduate from college than their higher-income peers. But this gap doesn’t just appear when kids reach adolescence. It stretches back to the early years of a child’s life, according to author Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, co-director of the Temple University Infant and Child Lab in Philadelphia. She says by the time children turn three years old, you can already observe a “dramatic” gap between those from lower-income and middle-income families. We talk with her about how this sets the foundation for future learning, and the best ways parents - and the government - can help kids progress.

Three Takeaways:

  • Back in 2003, researchers from the University of Kansas found that kids from lower-income families hear about 10 million words by the time they’re 3 years old, whereas those from families with higher incomes hear closer to 40 million.
  • Hirsh-Pasek points to the “conversational duet” as a good way to interact with children. Instead of talking at them, a duet means talking with kids. She says this provides a better boost to their language skills than merely throwing language at them.
  • Some creative techniques have worked to encourage such conversation. In one study, Hirsh-Pasek found that hanging signs in supermarkets — like “I’m a cow, I have milk. What comes from milk?” — encouraged more dialogue between kids and parents.

More Reading:

childhood, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, achievement gap

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