Are schools helping perpetuate the achievement gap between economically disadvantaged students and wealthier students?  The answer, according to a recent study published in Educational Researcher, is yes. Findings from the study indicate that unequal access to rigorous mathematics content is widening the gap in performance between low- and high-income students.  Data taken from the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) revealed that economically disadvantaged students are more likely to be exposed to weaker math content in schools.

The study examined PISA data from 33 countries and found the correlation between socioeconomic status and access to rigorous math content was apparent in every country, but varied significantly. In the U.S., researchers estimated that over one-third of the gap in student performance in math can be traced to unequal access; the remaining two-thirds can be attributed to family and community background.  The findings have noteworthy implications for school leaders, given that content exposure is far more reliant on school policies than broader socioeconomic conditions.