In the postindustrial economy, educational success has grown steadily more integral to economic success. The path to the middle class increasingly passes through college, and public policy has shifted accordingly.
Despite these efforts, however, inequality in educational success has been on the rise for at least a generation. According to an analysis by Sean Reardon of the Stanford University School of Education, the key divide is between children from high- and low-income families, where the gap in student performance is now 30–40 percent larger than it was three decades ago. Family income is now a far better predictor of student achievement than race and nearly as good a predictor as parental education, whose association with student achievement “has not changed dramatically.” Further, his data suggests that this growing “income achievement gap” does not simply reflect rising income inequality per se; rather, in Reardon’s words, “a dollar of income…appears to buy more academic achievement than it did several decades ago.”