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Inequalities at the starting gate

June 19, 2015
AssessmentEconomics and FinanceOutcomesQuality and Curriculum
Emma Garcia
Economic Policy Institute

Cognitive and noncognitive skills gaps between 2010–2011 kindergarten classmates

This study seeks to broaden the debate by examining the education gaps that exist even before children enter formal schooling in kindergarten, and showing that the gaps extend to noncognitive skills, which are also critical for adulthood outcomes (Heckman 2008; Heckman & Kautz 2012). Regarding the analysis of early education gaps, this paper is modeled on Lee and Burkam’s 2002 monograph Inequality at the Starting Gate: Social Background Differences in Achievement as Children Begin School, which found that cognitive gaps between children of different socioeconomic backgrounds and races and ethnicities were both sizeable and statistically significant at school entry in kindergarten.1 This is important for policymakers because, if unaddressed, there is the potential that gaps persist over time and compound. Such early-in-life inequalities point to the need for substantial interventions to reduce them, including early educational interventions, to ensure that children arrive in kindergarten ready to learn and for compensatory policies to support these children throughout the school years (from kindergarten through 12th grade). Moreover, the social and economic disadvantages that generate these gaps should be addressed directly and eliminated through social and economic policies, not just education policies (Morsy and Rothstein 2015; Putman 2015; Rothstein 2004).