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The Black-White Achievement Gap


Q. I thought busing and the billions we've poured into social engineering programs like Head Start and Title I were supposed to get rid of the test-score disparities between black and white children in this country. Didn't they?


No, far from it. According to the National Center on Education Statistics, the racial gap in math and reading test scores is actually wider today than in the late 1980s.


The evidence is clear, that despite mountains of tax dollars spent on early childhood education programs for the poor, many of whom are also minority group members, and on in-school programming such as the federal remediation program, Title I, any gains that minority children display in the early years of school wash out by about third grade, and after that, minorities are over-represented in in-school suspensions and dropout statistics, and under-represented in upper-level math and science courses and the college preparatory track.


Not even the infusion of an extra billion dollars or two zeroing in specifically on improving inner-city urban schools will help. In Kansas City, a judge ordered an intervention of just that size because of declining student achievement in the inner city after "white flight" to the suburbs . . . but a few years later, despite the massive infusion of extra cash, students were doing even worse, and the district lost its accreditation.


No one is saying that Caucasians have better intelligence than minorities, or anything of the kind. So what is the reason for this persistent, decades-old gap?


According to a long list of specialty organizations and observers, it comes down to:


(1)     Better parent education, especially preserving marriage, health care, family educational expectations, and home management skills, and working with minority mothers so that the frequency, elaboration and verbal interaction quality of their speech with their children is improved, so that parents can guide their children's educations with more success;


(2)     School choice, such as:


n       scholarship tax credits for donors who get a tax break in exchange for providing money to reduce the cost of tuition at private schools for low-income parents who want to give their children a private education;


n       free private-school tuition for kindergarten through second grade subsidized by taxpayers if the parents choose it, which would be funded by the dismantling of the huge education bureaucracy that has been built up around decades-old, failed policies and methods of trying to plug the racial achievement gap;


n       phonics-ONLY reading instruction in the early grades to compensate for the weaker vocabulary experience of low-income children, and


n       merit pay / battle pay for inner-city teachers whose "value-added" contributions as measured by standardized test scores and other objective data show they deserve extra pay, and


(3)     Better out-of-school, complementary educational experiences to approximate what middle-class and wealthy students get in the way of after-school, weekend and summer enrichment opportunities.


Here are some of the organizations which zero in on closing the achievement gap. They don't all share those three goals, and don't much agree with each other, but they all do have some excellent ideas and input into this national effort: (National Alliance of Black School Educators) (National Association for Multicultural Education) (National African-American Homeschoolers Alliance) (Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education; Star Parker) (Minority Student Achievement Network)



And here are articles for more information:


Inequality at the Starting Gate (Economic Policy Institute)


Closing the Achievement Gap: Principles for Improving the Educational Success of All Students


The Black-White Test Score Gap


Add It Up: Using Research to Improve Education for Low-Income and Minority Students


Raising Minority Academic Achievement: A Compendium of Education Programs and Practices


Erasing the Education Gap


Get Teachers, Parents on Same Page


The Broad Foundation



Homework: Most observers agree that the single-most important way of equalizing achievement among the races is to have public policies that foster competition among types of schools. The monopoly public school model has been shown to not work for African-American kids; it's long past time we moved on to a more effective and innovative approach, starting with school choice.


By Susan Darst Williams Controversies 05 2008


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