The Myth of Racial Disparities in Public School Funding

As a Harvard graduate student in 2008, Jason Richwine made a big impression when, on an AEI panel of all places, he advanced a race-conscious case for immigration restrictions. (I believe that he expanded on this theme in his Ph.D. thesis, which I have not seen.) Continuing his subversive work inside the Beltway conservative establishment, Richwine has now written a groundbreaking study for the Heritage Foundation discrediting the widely held claim that the reason black high school students are consistently several years behind their white peers in reading and math ability is that the blacks receive lesser school funding.

Here are the opening paragraphs of his article at Heritage summarizing his study (which is available in pdf here):

The Myth of Racial Disparities in Public School Funding

Published on April 20, 2011 by Jason Richwine, Ph.D. Backgrounder #2548

Abstract: Achievement disparities among racial and ethnic groups persist in the American education system. Asian and white students consistently perform better on standardized tests than Hispanic and black students. While many commentators blame the achievement gap on alleged disparities in school funding, this Heritage Foundation paper demonstrates that public education spending per pupil is broadly similar across racial and ethnic groups. To the extent that funding differences exist at all, they tend to slightly favor lower-performing groups, especially blacks. Since unequal funding for minority students is largely a myth, it cannot be a valid explanation for racial and ethnic differences in school achievement, and there is little evidence that increasing public spending will close the gaps.

In 2009, white public school eighth-graders outscored their black classmates by one standard deviation (equivalent to roughly two and a half years of learning) on the math portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test.[1] Racial differences in achievement like this one are pervasive in the U.S. education system, and the gaps have persisted for decades.

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), a standardized test battery given to 15-year-olds in all 34 OECD[2] countries, puts the gaps in stark terms. If white American students were counted as a separate group, their PISA reading score would rank them third in the world. Hispanic and black Americans, however, would score 31st and 33rd, respectively.[3]

Blaming “Unequal Funding.” A common hypothesis is that Hispanic and black students perform worse in school because less money is spent on them. In 1995, Columbia University’s Linda Darling-Hammond claimed, “The resources devoted to the education of poor children and children of color in the U.S. continue to be significantly less than those devoted to other American children … and it is these inequalities that create and sustain the ‘bell curve’ of differential achievement.”[4]

Part of the NAACP’s official statement on education policy reads: “Quality public education for African American and Latino students is persistently threatened as a direct result of inequitable school funding.”[5]

Responding in 2001 to criticism that blacks and Hispanics perform poorly on the SAT, College Board President Gaston Caperton declared, “Tests are not the problem…. The problem we have is an unfair education system in America—an unequal education system.”[6]

Even conservative author John McWhorter, while downplaying structural and institutional explanations for the racial achievement gap, still asserts that the alleged funding disadvantage for black students “is a real one.”[7]

These commentators are mistaken on two levels. First, increasing school spending has rarely led to better outcomes.[8] Second, and more fundamentally, based on data from the U.S. Department of Education itself, the assumed funding disparities between racial and ethnic groups do not exist.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at April 22, 2011 09:07 AM | Send

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