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Answer Sheet
Posted at 04:00 AM ET, 09/10/2012

The achievement gap: By the numbers

There are few things education researchers say they know with certainty. But virtually nobody disputes that socioeconomic status and the educational level of parents, especially mothers, are linked to the stubborn achievement gap between students of different races and ethnicities.

Children from poor families do worse than kids from middle-class and wealthy families; children do better if their mother has a college degree, and overall, children of all ethnicities and races do better in schools with less than 25 percent of the student population from low-income families.

The issue of how much out-of-school influences affect how well a child does in school has become controversial in today’s education debate, with many reformers insisting that a great teacher can overcome much if not all of the outside factors.

Critics of this thinking say that research has shown that outside factors are generally more powerful and that it is the exception rather than rule that students facing myriad social issues can do well at school without any attention being given to remediate those problems.

Where is the achievement gap the worst?

According to 2011 national testing data, the gap between white and black students is wider in Washington, D.C., public schools than in any other urban district — despite efforts by former chancellor Michelle Rhee and current schools chief Kaya Henderson to close it. The persistent gap in the District reflects on the questionable nature of some of the “reforms” that have been implemented locally and elsewhere around the country — which too often ignore the outside-of-school influences that affect how well a student does in class.

Here are some new statistics from a study on gaps in educational access and persistence just released by the U.S. Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics. The study looks at the gender differences, which in some cases are almost non-existent and in other cases, significant in showing how males are falling behind in some areas.

The statistics tell the story:

*In 2010, some 21 percent of children under age 18 were living in poverty. [In 2011, the Census Department released new figures that showed that 22 percent of American children were living in poverty.]

* Here’s the percentage of students in low- and high-poverty public elementary and secondary schools, by race/ethnicity and sex: School year 2010–11


( 1) Total includes other racial/ethnic groups not shown separately in the figure. NOTE: Low-poverty schools are those where 25 percent or fewer students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch; high-poverty schools are those where more than 75 percent of students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity.SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), "Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey," 2010–11.)

* In 2010, about 11 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 18 lived in a household where neither parent had earned at least a high school credential (either a diploma or an equivalency credential such as a General Educational Development [GED] certificate).


*The poverty rate for children living with a female parent with no spouse present in 2010 was an average 44 percent. Broken down: 52.8 percent for American Indians; 51.3 percent for blacks; 49.6 percent for Hispanics; 35.1 percent for whites; 33.2 percent for Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders; 29.3 percent for Asians.

* Here’s the percentage of children ages 6–18 whose parents’ highest level of educational attainment was less than high school completion, by child’s race/ethnicity and sex: 2010


(! Interpret data with caution. The coefficient of variation (CV) for this estimate is 30 percent or greater. 1) Total includes other racial/ethnic groups not shown separately in the figure.NOTE: Parent education reflects the highest level of education attained by any parent residing with the child. Parents include adoptive and step-parents but exclude nonresidential parents. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity.SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2010.)

* Percentage of children ages 6–18 whose parents’ highest level of educational attainment was a bachelor’s degree or higher, by child’s race/ethnicity and sex: 2010


( 1) Total includes other racial/ethnic groups not shown separately in the figure.NOTE: Parent education reflects the highest level of education attained by any parent residing with the child. Parents include adoptive and step-parents but exclude nonresidential parents. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity.SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2010. )

* In 2009, ninth-graders were asked to indicate the highest level of education they expected to achieve. A lower percentage of males than females (53 vs. 59 percent) expected to complete a bachelor’s or graduate/professional degree.

This pattern held for white males and females — 56 vs. 63 percent — and black males and females — 54 vs. 61 percent — but no measurable differences by sex were observed for other racial/ethnic groups.

* Percentage of students scoring at or above the Proficient level of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) science assessment, by grade, race/ethnicity, and sex in 2009. NAEP is often called the nation’s report card. Notice who does best here.


( 1) Reporting standards for American Indian/Alaska Native 12th-graders were not met; therefore, data for this group are not shown in the figure. 2) Total includes other racial/ethnic groups not shown separately in the figure.NOTE: NAEP achievement levels define what students should know and be able to do. Proficient represents solid academic performance. Students reaching this level have demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter. NAEP reports data on student race/ethnicity based on information obtained from school rosters. Separate estimates for Asians and Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders were not available. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity.SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2009 Science Assessment, NAEP Data Explorer.)

* The “averaged freshman graduation rate” for the class of 2008–09 was 75.5 percent among public school students. The rate is an estimate of the percentage of an entering ninth-grade class graduating in four years. Here’s the breakdown by racial/ethnic groups:


( 1) Total includes other racial/ethnic groups not shown separately in the figure. The United States total includes all 50 states and the District of Columbia. 2) The rate for American Indians/Alaska Natives excludes students served in schools operated by the Bureau of Indian Education. NOTE: AFGR is an estimate of the percentage of an entering freshman class graduating in four years. For 2008–09, it equals the total number of diploma recipients in 2008–09 divided by the average membership of the eighth-grade class in 2004–05, the ninth-grade class in 2005–06, and the 10th-grade class in 2006–07.SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), State Dropout and Completer Data File: School year 2007–08, version 1b; School year 2008–09, version 1a State Non-Fiscal Data File: School year 2003–04, version 1b; 2004–05, version 1f; 2005–06 version 1b; 2006–07, version 1c LEA Dropout and Completer Data File (Restricted-Use): School year 2008–09, version 1a School File: School year 2003–04, version 1a; 2004–05, version 1b; 2005–06, version 1a; 2006–07, version 1c; 2008–09, version 1b.)

* In 2010, 22 percent of the school age population, or 11.8 million children ages 5 to 17, spoke a language other than English at home and 2.7 million spoke English with difficulty.

Percentage of children ages 5–17 who spoke a language other than English at home and who spoke English with difficulty, by race/ethnicity and sex: 2010


(! Interpret data with caution. The coefficient of variation (CV) for this estimate is 30 percent or greater. 1) Total includes other racial/ethnic groups not shown separately in the figure.NOTE: Respondents were asked whether each child in the household spoke a language other than English at home. If they answered "yes," they were asked how well each child could speak English using the following categories: "very well," "well," "not well," and "not at all." All children who were reported to speak English less than "very well" were considered to have difficulty speaking English. A Spanish-language version of the American Community Survey (ACS) was available to respondents. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity.SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, American Community Survey (ACS), 2010.)

Here’s part of a blog post from The Root that talks about subgroup of black Americans who are achieving at high levels. You can see the rest of the post here.

....Despite it all, there is hope. There is a subgroup of black Americans in this country who continue to achieve at high levels, results that might provide some clues to solving one of our most persistent educational problems. First- and second-generation immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean, though only 13 percent of the nation’s blacks as a whole, represent 41 percent of all those of African descent at 28 selective universities and 23 percent of the black population at all public universities.
Meanwhile, census data show that the children of these immigrants were more likely to be college-educated than any other immigrant or U.S.-born ethnic group, including white Americans.
The success of these first- and second-generation immigrant blacks can be attributed to several factors, including where many of them choose to live as they raise families in America. In his seminal study, “Voluntary and Involuntary Minorities: A Cultural-Ecological Theory of School Performance with Some Implications for Education,” John Ogbu, then a professor of anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley, contended that immigrant black Americans live in more racially diverse communities and aren’t burdened by perceived black underachievement on standardized tests.
This is largely because they lack a connection to predominantly U.S.-born black communities and they trust white institutions more than non-immigrant blacks. This leads them them to make housing choices based on the potential for greatest opportunity in education and employment, which tend to be in more diverse communities....

You can find the rest of the Root post here and the entire Education Department report here.

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