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In New York City, A Long Wait Ahead to Close the Math Achievement Gap

By Eduwonkette — July 22, 2008 2 min read

Today I will lay out the math achievement disparities separating black and Hispanic New York City students from their white and Asian counterparts on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Needless to say, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein forgot to mention these inconvenient facts when they testified before Congress last week:

* In 2007, the average African-American 8th grade student in NYC performed at the 20th percentile of the white distribution in math, and at the 15th percentile of the Asian distribution. Put differently, 80 percent of white students performed above the average African-American math score, and 85 percent of Asian students did.

* In 2007, the average Hispanic 8th grade student in NYC performed at the 24th percentile of the white distribution in math, and at the 17th percentile of the Asian distribution. In other words, 76 percent of white students performed above the average Hispanic math score, and 83 percent of Asian students did.

The size of those gaps is almost identical for 4th grade students.

If there is trouble in Gotham, it can be summarized in a few lines: best case scenario, the black-white achievement gap in 8th grade math achievement won’t close for 21 years, and the Hispanic-white achievement gap won’t close for 36 years. But here’s the catch: these projections only hold if white students make no progress. And indeed, they have made no progress in 8th grade math in the last four years: The average scale score for white students was the same in 2003 as it was in 2007 (289 points). If white students also improve, these gaps will take even longer to close if New York City continues at the current pace.

What’s more, the gaps separating black and Hispanic students from their Asian peers appear to be growing, at least in the 8th grade. Though only the growth in the Asian-Hispanic achievement gap is statistically significant, the growth in this gap from 2003 to 2007 is suggestive of a troubling trend:

* Between 2003 and 2007, the average black 8th grader in NYC has fallen from the 19th to the 15th percentile of the Asian distribution. (Note that this change falls short of statistical significance, however.)

* Between 2003 and 2007, the average Hispanic 8th grader has fallen from the 24th to the 17th percentile of the Asian distribution.

Of late, Joel Klein has taken to invoking Martin Luther King, a habit that I find quite infuriating given the sizable and persistent achievement gaps in New York City - notwithstanding his PR campaign clucking about his successes on this front. I don’t think Dr. King would have looked kindly on such subterfuge. So I leave you with this quote from his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, which provides a lens through which to view these gaps and New Yorkers growing impatience with the Department of Education’s unwillingness to acknowledge that gaps have not closed under their watch:

For years now I have heard the word “Wait!”....This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” ....There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

Tomorrow: The Reading Achievement Gap in New York City.

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