Katherine Michelmore
MAXWELL SCHOOL OF CITIZENSHIP AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS, SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY. Assistant Professor of Public Administration and International Affairs.
Income Differences in Education: the Gap Within the Gap
Education Policy

Income Differences in Education: the Gap Within the Gap

The Issue:

Students from poor families score much lower on academic tests than their better-off peers. This achievement gap is wider today than it was 25 years ago. But researchers and policymakers have been using a crude yardstick to measure economic disadvantage, making it more difficult to target resources to those who need them the most.

The Facts:

  • Student eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch is a widely used measure for poverty in schools, even though it offers a very broad brushstroke. Nearly half of all students nationwide are eligible for subsidized meals but only a quarter of U.S. children live in poverty.
  • Test scores vary widely within those who qualify for subsidized meals. While about half of 8th graders in Michigan are currently eligible for a subsidized meal, 14 percent were eligible for subsidized meals every year since kindergarten and they scored significantly lower than all the other groups.
  • Many federal, state, and local programs distribute money based on the share of a school’s or a district’s students eligible for subsidized meals.