Arkansas Advocates highlights achievement gap in Arkansas and neighboring states | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Arkansas Advocates highlights achievement gap in Arkansas and neighboring states

Posted By on Wed, Jan 27, 2016 at 6:56 AM

From Arkansas Advocates, here's a reminder about the persistence of the racial achievement gap in K-12 education in Arkansas and surrounding states.

Education Policy Director Kathryn Hazelett compares 4th grade reading scores for white and black students on the National Assessment for Educational Progress. Since states use different standardized tests to measure student performance, NAEP is still the closest thing we have to providing an apples-to-apples comparison of state scores (although it measures only a small sample of schools, rather than every student in the state). 

It's not surprising — though it still should be shocking — that white students in Arkansas are twice as likely to be reading on grade level than black students:

Using this same measure, we can see that all of our surrounding states face a similar (and in some cases slightly larger) gap in achievement. What we don’t see is a large difference between us and our surrounding states. And, that is not even slightly a feather in our cap.

Rather, it is a call to lead. We need to make targeted and meaningful use of the resources set aside to close this gap. We need to fund quality early childhood education and after-school and summer programs. We know what works, we have dollars set aside to do what works. It’s imperative that we close that gap by funding what works.

I would also add that the achievement gap in terms of race is no longer as important as the achievement gap in terms of income, according to an academic analysis in 2013 by Stanford sociologist Sean Reardon that looked at the relative impact of class and race in terms of reading performance since 1940.

Once, whether one was black mattered more than whether one was poor as a predictor of academic performance. Now, the reverse is true, Reardon's research says.

Of course, in America, to be black (or brown) means one is much more likely to be poor, and stay poor (startling news, I know). Since race and income are so strongly correlated, the socioeconomic achievement gap and the racial achievement gap are often talking about much the same thing.

But they're not identical measures, and that's especially important to keep in mind in Arkansas — a state with a very large population of poor white people being left behind by widening income inequality as surely as poor people of color are being left behind. It's also important to highlight Reardon's findings because they help put the lie to racist notions of intellectual inferiority. Why does the performance gap between black children and white children persist? Because the gap of wealth, income and power between black and white America still exists, too.

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