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This research brief describes work documented in Student Achievement and the Changing American Family (MR-488-LE).

Excerpt: Critics of American education frequently blame lagging student performance on the deteriorating American family structure. Moreover, it is widely asserted that substantial spending on schools and social programs over the past two decades has failed to reverse the educational downtrend. However, a recent study conducted by RAND's Institute on Education and Training sharply challenges this view. First, the study points out that prior research — contrary to public perception — has reported gains in student performance between 1970 and 1990, as measured by nationally representative test score data. The largest gains were made by minority students, although a substantial gap still remains. Second, the study finds that demographic trends affecting the family over this time period contributed to rising test scores. Third, the minority gains cannot be fully explained by changing family characteristics, suggesting that we need to look to other factors for explanations. The most likely explanations are rising public investment in schools and families and equal educational opportunity policies.

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