“The Gap Within the Gap” brief by Susan Dynarski on Brookings
Susan M. Dynarski and Katherine Michelmore (Syracuse University) published a report summarizing their research paper, “The Gap Within the Gap: Using Longitudinal Data to Understand Income Differences in Educational Outcomes,” on Brookings' Evidence Speaks Series.
Typically, when studying the income-based achievement gap, student’s eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch is used as the rough measure of economic disadvantage. Using longitudinal data, Dynarski and Michelmore attained a more detailed measure of economic disadvantage by identifying students as never disadvantaged, transitorily disadvantaged, and persistently disadvantaged. They found that the within-school gap between the never disadvantaged and the persistently disadvantaged remains 40 percent larger than the gap based on the standard measure of contemporaneous eligibility. Two classrooms may have identical numbers of currently eligible children but different numbers of persistently eligible children.
Their results imply that the number of years that a child spends eligible for subsidized meals can be used to proxy for household income. Their proposed measure can also be used to better target resources toward the most disadvantaged children. Many federal, state, and local programs distribute money based on the share of a school’s or district’s students eligible for subsidized meals. By taking these differences into account, practitioners and policymakers can better target resources intended to support the most disadvantaged children and their schools.