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The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Poorer, the “Matthew Effect”

Updated: Apr 19, 2021

Have you heard of “The Matthew Effect” credited to sociologists, Richard K. Merton and Harriet Zuckerman? It was named for the bible passage Matthew 25:29: “For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.” The loose transition popularized today is "The rich get richer and the poor get poorer”.

The term has been used to describe the effect that specific learning disabilities such as dyslexia and dysgraphia can have on early readers. The premise is that if a child has difficulty learning to read at an early age and isn’t given the tools and services to improve his or her reading, then there is a likelihood that the child’s reading will decline and it will not only affect school, but will affect that child’s future.

On the other end of the spectrum, children who are quick to learn to read will likely continue reading regularly and at a high level, and are believed to be successful in other areas of their lives. Thus, the rich at reading get richer at reading, and the poor at reading get poorer at reading.

What can you do? The key is early assessment and services. The child who shows signs at even a pre-K stage of a language based disorder should be assessed in all areas of that suspected learning disorder and the assessments should be conducted by qualified professionals. Talk to your pediatrician if your child hasn't entered school yet. Your child may be eligible for Early Intervention.

Results of the assessments are “data”. If a child is school age and the assessments lead a team to determine that the child is eligible for special education and services and an IEP is in place, data should be carefully tracked over time. If the data show no effective progress in the child’s reading or language based skills, then that child is not receiving the necessary services. Something isn’t working. Don’t delay action.

Do what you can to minimize the Matthew Effect. Catch specific learning disorders for early readers. Conduct thorough assessments. Work with your Team to ensure that your child receives the necessary services. Track the data. If the data show lack of progress, adjust the services.

Regardless of this theory, it is never too late to get your child help. If your student needs assistance and you have questions for a special education attorney, please do not hesitate to contact my office.


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