at the 99th percentile increased by 90 percent; the income
of those at the bottom 20th percentile, by just 7 percent
(Duncan & Murnane, 2011). Further, the unemployment
rate remains dispiritingly high. Especially among those with
a high school education or less, the Great Recession wreaked
havoc among working-class families’ employment (Carnevale
& Rose, 2011).
Astonishing increases in the degree of residential segregation are exacerbating these circumstances, according to
demographer Douglas Massey (2007). Those with money are
more likely to live in homogeneously privileged neighborhoods and interact almost exclusively with other affluent
people. Those without money are increasingly confined to
homogeneously poor neighborhoods, yielding a density of
material deprivation that is unprecedented in U.S. history.
These stark inequalities have become fodder for increasingly intractable debates among politicians and pundits. More
important, however, is what these statistics mean for educating our children and keeping the hope of upward mobility
through hard work alive. Are there still real opportunities
for all children? Or is the American dream now an empty
Early Experiences and Inequality
On the basis a 10-year study that my colleagues and I conducted of two neighborhoods within the confines of Philadelphia, one of poverty and the other of privilege (Neuman
& Celano, 2012), one could argue that our fears are real.
Although the dream of upward mobility still exists, it has
become far more difficult for many to accomplish.
Our work in these two neighborhoods was guided by the
theory that the amount of early access to print and the quality
of adult support young children receive set in motion a
process that either accelerates or delays literacy development
and knowledge acquisition (Stanovich, 1986). Children learn
about literacy through experiences and observations of the
written language they encounter in their everyday lives. They
construct an understanding of how print works through inde-
pendent explorations of print and signs, interactions around
books and other print resources, and participation with others
engaged in both enjoyable and purposeful literacy activities.
These early experiences provide opportunities to learn about
the spelling-to-sound code, building preparatory skills that
are essential for learning to read.
;lthough the dream of up;ard
mobility still exists, it has become far
more di;cult for many to accomplish.
experiences. Children struggle to develop fluency in reading,
further draining their capacity for comprehending text.
But it doesn’t end there. The vicious cycle accelerates. As
the Common Core State Standards emphasize, children gain
knowledge through text. Knowledge disparities, therefore,
grow as a result of these differences in reading experiences.
Those who read more are creating and using greater pools of
knowledge. Greater knowledge use enhances students’ speed
of information acquisition, which over time is likely to accelerate a knowledge gap between those who have access and
those who do not (Neuman & Celano, 2006). Although the
have-nots gain knowledge, the haves gain it faster. By gaining
faster, they gain more. The result, we hypothesized, leads
to the social stratification of information capital that occurs
among those who live in affluent and poor communities.
Unfortunately, this is what we found.
Like many cities throughout the United States, Philadelphia is
a city of contrasts. It has become home to many immigrants