Delayed speech and limited vocabularies were often cited by former School 50 principal Tim Mains as clear indicators of how under-prepared many city school children are entering kindergarten compared to their suburban peers. One landmark study dealing with early childhood development showed that by age 3, children from wealthier families have much larger vocabularies.
Walking in the doorway, Mains said, many of his students were already in a remedial mode.
A new follow-up study reported i
n the New York Times suggests that the problem is far worse, with language deficiency beginning as early as 18 months. Recent research by Anne Fernald, a psychologist at Stanford University, revealed a literacy gap in children from low-income families that starts earlier than age 3 and gets bigger with time.
In Fernald’s study, children from wealthier homes could identify pictures of simple words, such as dog and ball, much faster than children from low-income families. By age 2, the children from affluent families had learned 30 percent more words between the age of 18 months to 2 years than economically disadvantaged children.
The connection between speech development and reading proficiency has been known for years. But Fernald’s study, which was first published by Developmental Science, raises new concerns about the urgent need for earlier intervention in the form of universal pre-K and day care programs that meet higher educational standards.
The new study is more evidence that poverty places a barbed wire around academic achievement while many children are still in diapers. While the introduction of tougher standards through the Common Core curriculum may have value in better preparing US students for college and the global work force, the inequities stemming from the country’s widening wealth gap sabotage that work.
Millions of largely urban public school students from low-income families may be on a treadmill that never allows them to catch up to their dreams and aspirations.