The Education Gap Is Not A Race War

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JONATHAN CHAIT AUGUST 27, 2010

The Education Gap Is Not A Race War

Washington D.C. is running one of the most agressive experiments in public school reform in the country under its school chacellor, Michelle Rhee. Unfortunately for Rhee, she also happens to have a fairly contentious relationship with Bill Turque, the Washington Post's education reporter. And in today's paper, Turque reports the alarming news that the black-white achievement gap is growing:

After two years of progress, Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's effort to narrow the vast achievement gap separating white and African American students in D.C. public schools has stalled, an analysis of 2010 test score data shows. ...

But year-to-year results show that progress has slowed markedly. After narrowing from 2007 to last year, the gap in secondary math proficiency widened by slightly less than 2 percentage points. Secondary reading scores show the same flattening trajectory.

First of all, a small one-year blip is not front-page news. Turque dos note that the tiny one-year reversion follows several previous years of enormous gains. But this information is a reason to re-write the story completely, not to be mentioned as a caveat in a front pager touting Rhee's failure.

Second, and more importantly, the growing racial gap at the secondary level is entirely caused by higher rates of growth among white students. Black students had slightly higher scores as well, just not quite as high. Here's the data for reading:

And here it is for math:

You do see a small reversion at the elementary level. But the story at the secondary level is continued growth among both black and white students.

Turque's article makes a big deal about Rhee's determination to eliminate the black-white acheivement gap. Taken literally, it's bad news when whites pull ahead faster than blacks. But nobody actually takes it that literally. Blacks and whites are not engaged in some zero sum education contest. The point is to raise everybody's scores, wtih a special emphasis on bringing up the scores of African-Americans, who trail badly. The high scores of white students in D.C. are not actually a problem.

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posted in: jonathan chait, washington d.c., the washington post, bill turque, michelle a. rhee, michelle rhee

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