Persistent achievement gap vexes education reformers: Six takeaways
No education issue has received more attention in recent years—but with less apparent progress—than the achievement gaps for minority and low-income students. The Center on Education Policy released a study Tuesday that looks at trends in all 50 states. Despite a few bright spots, the picture is bleak. Here are a few of the study’s major findings:
- Amanda Paulson, Staff writer
Latinos are a bright spot
If there’s one bright spot in the report, it’s that Latino students are doing better. Latino/white gaps tend to be the ones narrowing the fastest, even though large gaps (ranging from 5 to 38 percentage points) persist in most states. [LA replies: A gap of up to 38 percentage points in most states is “doing better”? Well, of course, it’s “doing better” in relation to blacks. But to say that a group is doing better than the absolute worst is not to say that it’s doing well.]
In eighth grade, every state in the country managed to narrow the gap, says Mr. Jennings. “That’s hopeful, since Latinos are growing very fast as a segment of the population,” he says.
Even there, though, the news isn’t all good. In about one-third of the cases the report examined at the fourth-grade level, the mean score gap actually widened—mostly because white students improved their scores at a faster rate than Latino students. [LA replies: Do you see how even a relatively ethical outfit like the Christian Science Monitor still speaks trickily and ambiguously on this issue—making claims of important progress which then are thrown into question, leaving the reader in a state of confusion? I submit that confusion is the aim, because the two alternatives to confusion are blatantly dishonest claims about closing the gap, which will discredit the speaker, and the truth about the actual unchangeable nature of the gap, which will also discredit the speaker, though for different reasons. The reality is that such indirection is employed by EVERYONE in respectable America, liberal and “conservative,” who writes about this subject.]
Which states stand out
While the report declined to rank states—in part because their tests are all so different—some are clearly doing a better job than others when it comes to narrowing achievement gaps.
Arizona and Florida, for instance, are doing the best job narrowing the gap between Latino and white students, while Florida also stands out when it comes to the African-American/white gap. In Florida, the percentage of fourth grade African-American students scoring proficient in math went from 28 percent in 2002 to 60 percent in 2009. [LA replies: Even when they give a relatively straightforward statistic showing progress, I don’t believe it. I am very doubtful that black fourth graders went from 28 percent proficiency in math to 60 percent proficiency in seven years. Indeed, it was precisely such a huge leap forward in Atlanta which made authorities so suspicious that they initiated the investigation that revealed the massive test cheating scandal.]
Tennessee is doing well at closing gaps for low-income students. Tennessee, in fact, is noteworthy in narrowing gaps across the board: for all subgroups, in both reading and math, at all three grade levels (fourth grade, eighth grade, and high school), and by both measures the researcher used (looking at average scores as well as the percentage of students that scored proficient).
Boys behind girls in reading in every state
In every state and the District of Columbia, boys now lag girls when it comes to reading. By the measure of the median percentage of students scoring proficient across all states, boys lag girls by 11 points in eighth grade (66 percent for boys and 77 percent for girls). [LA replies: Notice how they put it. They don’t say that boys used to do equally well or better than girls, and that now they have fallen behind, and that this is a disaster for our society. No. They just say that boys “lag” girls, making it sound routine. In any case, assuming it’s true that boys have fallen behind girls, the reason is that our evil leftist feminist schools have been made entirely girl-centric, and boys turn off.]
Progress in narrowing that gap, meanwhile, has been uneven; in a number of states, the gap is widening.
Native Americans losing ground
Some groups aren’t making even sluggish progress. Gaps for native Americans, in particular, are closing slowly. In fourth-grade reading and math, the gap between native Americans and whites widened more often than it narrowed, and in high school, it widened in as many states as it narrowed or was stable.
‘We have to do much more … faster’
This report just looks at the data; it doesn’t speculate about causes. But Jennings says it’s clear that something different needs to be done.
“This is in a way saying that we’ve gone through 10 years of talk and some action, but if we’re serious about this, we have to do much more and do it a lot faster,” he says. [LA replies: Ten years of the biggest federal intrusion in history into local education in this country turning every local school system on its head, is just “some action”? And we must do “much more and do it faster”? What shall we—i.e., the government—do? Command the schools to make nonwhites smarter? (Just as a group of Mideast wise men including Lee Hamilton and Sandra Day O’Connor want Obama to command Israel to make “peace” with the Palestinians?)]
Others are even more pointed.
“We’ve now reached the end of the No Child Left Behind decade, which featured sustained attention to boosting achievement of minority and low-income students, and the results are far from what anybody would have hoped for,” says Frederick Hess, the American Enterprise Institute’s director of education policy studies. “The way I interpret this is that most of the purported solutions tend to be iterations of doing the same thing over and over.” [LA replies: That’s actually a better statement than I expected, because it’s stating one truth, we haven’t succeeded in equalizing the races, and it’s at least implying another and more important truth: we are not able to equalize the races. So let’s stop trying.]