Early Parental Investment and the Emergence of School Readiness Gaps: Changing Patterns over the Past Two Decades
Daphna Bassok

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of Virginia

Primary Discipline

Early Childhood Education
Socio-economic gaps in cognitive skills emerge years before children enter elementary school and those gaps persist throughout school and into adulthood. Early childhood interventions are increasingly touted for their potential to narrow achievement gaps and serve as societal equalizers. However, as researchers and the media have placed greater emphasis on the importance of the early childhood years, higher-income families may have expanded investments in their young children at rates that far outpace more modest increases among middle and low-income families. The purpose of this study is to leverage a number of large, national datasets, several of which include waves that were only recently released, to provide new evidence on this issue. In particular, the study addresses three questions. First, how has parental investment in the enrichment and development of their young children changed between the early nineties and today? Second, is there evidence of a growing “early childhood parental investment gap” between low and high-income families? And finally, do changing patterns of parental investment over this period correspond to changing trends in children’s “school readiness” and to a widening of socio-economic school readiness gaps?The achievement gap between poor and rich children in the United States has expanded substantially in recent decades. While we know that socio-economic gaps emerge early, to date we have not had empirical evidence about changing trends in early childhood achievement gaps. Given the heightened public investment in early childhood education over the past two decades, we might expect early gaps to have narrowed. However, there is also suggestive evidence that early childhood parental investments may have increased disproportionately among high-income families, actually exacerbating gaps. The proposed study will explore these issues providing insights for the design of early interventions targeted towards narrowing achievement gaps.
About Daphna Bassok
Daphna Bassok is an Assistant Professor of Education and Public Policy at the University of Virginia and is also the Associate Director of EdPolicyWorks. Her research addresses early childhood education policy, with a particular focus on the impacts of policy interventions on the academic and social well-being of low-income children. Her current and recent projects examine changes in the early childhood teacher labor force over time, the impacts of Florida’s Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten program, and the increasingly academic focus of preschool and kindergarten classrooms. Bassok has received funding for her research from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the AERA Grants Board, the Smith Richardson Foundation, the Foundation for Child Development and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Her work has appeared in education policy and early childhood outlets including Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis and Child Development, among others. She holds a Ph.D. in the Economics of Education, a M.A. in Economics and a M.A. in Policy Analysis and Evaluation, all from Stanford University.

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