Black-white education gap is worsened by unresponsive state policymakers, study shows

Jun 20, 2013

State policymakers' attention to teacher quality—an issue education research shows is essential to improving schooling outcomes for racial minority students—is highly responsive to low graduation rates among white students, but not to low graduation rates among black students, according to a Baylor University study.

The findings are evidence that "the persisting between white and black students has distinctively political foundations," the researchers wrote.

The article, entitled "The Politic Foundations of the Black-White Education Achievement Gap," is published in the journal American Politics Research. It is coauthored by Patrick Flavin, an assistant professor of in Baylor's College of Arts & Sciences, and Michael Hartney, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Notre Dame.

The findings come nearly 60 years after Brown vs. the Board of Education, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case aimed at promoting educational equality by declaring unconstitutional state laws that established separate public schools for black and white students.

But the researchers' findings show that inequality persists when it comes to education reform. "Instead of promoting equality of opportunity, America's system of K-12 education—which relies heavily on state and local control—may worsen political inequalities," the researchers wrote.

Surprisingly, even in states in which policymakers were more racially balanced, legislators were less responsive about closing the education gap, Flavin said.

"You might expect that in states that have more , government would be more attentive, but we didn't find that," Flavin said. "Whether analyzed at the policymaking level or the level of individual citizens' political attitudes, white students receive far more attention and subsequent response compared to African-American students."

For the research, racial disparities in student outcomes were measured using National Assessment of Education Progress scores as well as high school . While there was a period of dramatic improvement after the Brown v. Board decision up until early 1990s, the gap between the two racial groups has stagnated or even slightly increased since the early 1990s, according to the study.

To analyze state policymaking, the researchers measured 12 state-level reform policies tracked by the National Council on . Those policies include such actions as paying teachers more for teaching in high-poverty schools (so-called "combat pay") and tying teacher pay to student achievement.

To analyze citizens' opinions on education, Flavin and Hartney used a variety of nationally representative public opinion polls and found that white citizens "only seem to be alarmed when white students' performance drops," Flavin said.

Whites are less likely to think an education gap exists or to see it as a priority compared to blacks. Whites also are less likely to think that the government has a responsibility to close a gap, the researchers found.

"It's when white students are doing poorly that you start seeing state legislators pass more controversial bills like linking teacher pay and evaluations to student test scores. The question is, 'Why is that?'" Flavin said.

For black policymakers, inaction on policies aimed at improving schooling for racial minorities could be related to the fact that they overwhelmingly tend to be Democrats—and teachers' unions contribute most of their campaign funding to Democrats, Flavin said. The unions are "adamantly against linking teacher evaluations to test scores. They have other ideas they think would help, like reducing class sizes and improving resources for teacher professionalization."

The study concludes by noting that the most recent and widespread efforts to address educational inequality have come not from state policymakers but rather from federal ones.

Those included the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, which required states to document and report student test score data by racial and ethnic subgroups; and more recently, the "Race to the Top," a competitive grant program that makes willingness to decrease achievement gaps, particularly to increase minority students' access to highly effective teachers, a key factor for states to be awarded federal money.

Explore further: Less privileged kids shine at university, according to study

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Math teachers demonstrate a bias toward white male students

Apr 16, 2012

While theories about race, gender, and math ability among high school students have long been debated, a recent study found that math teachers are in fact, unjustifiably biased toward their white male students. This study ...

Study: Teachers choose schools according to student race

May 27, 2009

A study forthcoming in the Journal of Labor Economics suggests that high-quality teachers tend to leave schools that experience inflows of black students. According to the study's author, C. Kirabo Jackson (Cornell Univer ...

Recommended for you

Why are UK teenagers skipping school?

Dec 18, 2014

Analysis of the results of a large-scale survey reveals the extent of truancy in English secondary schools and sheds light on the mental health of the country's teens.

Fewer lectures, more group work

Dec 18, 2014

Professor Cees van der Vleuten from Maastricht University is a Visiting Professor at Wits University who believes that learning should be student centred.

How to teach all students to think critically

Dec 18, 2014

All first year students at the University of Technology Sydney could soon be required to take a compulsory maths course in an attempt to give them some numerical thinking skills. ...

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Matthewwa25
2 / 5 (4) Jun 20, 2013
Maybe some people should raise their children for once?
jscroft
1 / 5 (2) Jun 20, 2013
Good Lord, the LAST thing anybody needs is MORE responsive politicians!
Noumenon
2.7 / 5 (7) Jun 20, 2013
"the persisting achievement gap between white and black students has distinctively political foundations,"


No it does not, it has absolutely zero to do with race biased policies. The fundamental problem begins with disinterested pc ignoramuses and cowards that refuse to acknowledge the core problem out of fear of being labeled "racist".

Liberals are good at analyzing statistics until it threatens their pc worldview, then they ignore it and cover it up by inventing yet another layer of 'blame whitey'. Evil and irresponsible.

The core problem is a cultural one and starts with the family unit. Black babies born out of wed-lock is an astounding 70%, twice that of the next racial demographic. YBM having five babies by six different mothers, each with a career in welfare and crime. The liberal welfare system has subjected these people to generations of gov dependency. Is the poor education standards a surprise? No, the result of liberal gov planning at its finest.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.