Reports Focus on Closing Achievement Gap

By Alyssa Morones — July 16, 2013 3 min read
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A pair of recent studies take a hard look at achievement gaps between black and Latino students and their higher-performing white peers in New York City and states across the nation.

Of the class of 2010 in the United States, 52 percent of black males and 60 percent of Latino males graduated from high school on time. In comparison, 78 percent of white, non-Latino males graduated within four years.

New York City’s efforts to improve the low graduation rates of its black and Latino male students have seen success, says a report released last month by the Research Alliance for New York City Schools, “Moving the Needle: Exploring Key Levers to Boost College Readiness Among Black and Latino Males in NYC.” In spite of these gains, though, the report argues that the academic opportunities for these groups remain in peril. In New York City’s 2010 graduating class, just 9 percent of black males and 11 percent of Latino males were deemed “college ready.”

The report examined the trajectory of black and Latino young men on their path to college and identified key points where schools should provide the necessary additional support for these students, in order to ensure their academic opportunities are not undermined.

According to national data, poverty, gender expectations, and language and cultural barriers shape a student’s academic experience and can produce “opportunity gaps.” Black and Latino males are negatively and disproportionately represented in special education classes, suspended and expelled at higher rates, and have less access to rigorous courses, for example.

In New York, the school system attempted to boost college-readiness rates among black and Latino males with its Expanded Success Initiative, part of the multidimensional NYC’s Young Men’s Initiative. The new report highlights areas of focus that the ESI should concentrate on to improve its effectiveness for this set of students. These include a focus on college readiness, investment in 9th grade resources, increased opportunities for rigorous coursework, and cultivation of student leadership.

However, achievement gaps among groups of students may also be rooted in politics, according to the second report, released in May by researchers from the University of Notre Dame and Baylor University.

“The Political Foundations of the Black-White Education Achievement Gap” looks at state policymakers’ efforts to improve graduation rates.

“To date, the majority of scholarly research examining public policy and the education achievement gap has focused on identifying the effects, rather than causes, of state education policies,” reads the report.

Researchers looked at state policymakers’ attentiveness to teacher quality, a prong of education policy proven essential to minority students’ educational outcomes. They compared high school graduation rates in 2005 for districts throughout the nation and compared this to state education policies enacted in 2009 that were centered around improving teacher quality, a reasonable amount of time for state policymakers to respond to the 2005 academic outcomes.

They found that state policymakers are generally highly responsive in taking steps to improve teacher quality when white students show low graduation rates. There was no level of responsiveness, however, when African-American students had poor graduation rates.

With education’s strong ties to opportunity and politics, both studies deal with more than just graduation rates and college readiness—they are linked to civil rights, said one author.

“Level of education is an important predictor of political involvement,” said Michael Hartney, a co-author of the second study.

Hartney explained that it would make sense, then, for policymakers seeking votes for re-election to be less responsive to groups that are less politically involved.

“There’s a problem of cyclical inequality if school systems continue to fail African Americans, which may contribute to them being less attended to by policymakers,” said Hartney.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.