NPR

Let's Stop Talking About The '30 Million Word Gap'

It's one of the most famous studies ever done on kids. It's often cited as a reason children from poor families struggle in school. But it may be neither 30 million words, nor exactly a gap.
Word gap or word wealth? Source: Chelsea Beck

Did you know that kids growing up in poverty hear 30 million fewer words by age 3? Chances are, if you're the type of person who reads a newspaper or listens to NPR, you've heard that statistic before.

Since 1992 this finding has, with unusual power, shaped the way educators, parents and policymakers think about educating poor children.

But did you know that the number comes from just one study, begun almost 40 years ago, with just 42 families? That some people argue it contained a built-in racial bias? Or that others, including the authors of a brand-new study that calls itself a "failed replication," say it's just wrong?

NPR talked to eight researchers on all sides to explore this controversy. All of them say they share the goal of helping poor kids achieve their highest potential in school.

But on the issue of how to define either the problem, or the solution, there are, well, very big gaps.

With all that in mind, here are six things to know about the 30 million word gap.

1. The original study had just 42 families.

During the in the 1960s, Betty Hart, a former preschool teacher, entered graduate school in

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