The Matthew effect in education was described by Keith Stanovich based on the Matthew effect in sociology. It derives its name from a passage (Matthew 25:29) in the New Testament: "For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath."
Stanovich used the term to describe a phenomenon that has been observed in research on how new readers acquire the skills to read: early success in acquiring reading skills usually leads to later successes in reading as the learner grows, while failing to learn to read before the third or fourth year of schooling may be indicative of lifelong problems in learning new skills. This is because children who fall behind in reading would read less, increasing the gap between them and their peers. Later, when students need to "read to learn" (where before they were learning to read), their reading difficulty creates difficulty in most other subjects. In this way they fall further and further behind in school, dropping out at a much higher rate than their peers.
In the words of Keith Stanovich (Adams, 1990, pp. 59–60):