The NAEP scores released in April set off a flurry of headlines about the sobering state of achievement gaps across the nation. The general consensus? Despite pockets of promise, and slight declines in gaps by race, achievement data reveal that gaps by income have remained relatively flat, or uneven at best.

The news for young people on the wrong side of these gaps, however, may be worse. Measuring opportunity in terms of household income or school quality, as education reformers are prone to do, doesn’t paint the whole picture. Students today are competing on an even more complex playing field, one...

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