|“We’d better study so they don’t give all the A’s to the rich dudes. ”
|Editor’s note: Recent studies indicate that the educational achievement disparity by race is closing, but the gap by family wealth is growing.
The history of segregated public schools in America has induced many researchers to conclude that the major academic problem in secondary education is the racial gap. The language of the court in Brown vs. the Board of Education (1954) asserted that racial segregation has severely impaired the academic capacity of black students. The court stated:
Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law; for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the Negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn.
The court found that the psychological damage from segregated schools was so severe that the doctrine of “separate but equal” could not apply in education. Consequently, the court held that schools officially segregated by race were unconstitutional. However, the assumption of black intellectual inferiority persists. Today, 58 years after the Brown decision, educators seem to believe that racial disparity in test results is the major problem in education.
Recent studies now indicate that the education gap correlates better with family income than with race. While the educational achievement gap between whites and blacks is narrowing, the gap between rich and poor is widening. According to Prof. Sean Reardon of Stanford University, the disparity in test scores between affluent and low-income students has grown by 40 percent since the 1960s and is now twice the gap between blacks and whites.
Despite a substantial difference in median family income, blacks are doing well comparatively. In 2009, according to the U.S. Census Bureau the median white family income was $62,545, compared with only $38,409 for black families. Blacks are therefore performing academically better than whites in the same income bracket.
There is an even greater problem that Americans have not yet understood. The nation’s secondary school systems do not compare favorably with those of other industrial countries. The 2009 results of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) that tested 15-year-old students in 65 countries demonstrate a U.S. deficiency in science and math. The U.S. ranked 23 in science behind Shanghai, Hong Kong and Macao in China, and Singapore, Japan, Korea and Taiwan. The U.S. ranked 32 in math, also behind those countries in Asia.
The prominence of U.S. companies in the global economy depends upon technological superiority. President Obama understands this, so a major objective of his administration is to improve the quality of the nation’s public education. All public schools should meet an even higher academic standard and be open to everyone.
The attainment of quality now supersedes the importance of racial diversity in public education. The primary objective of black leadership should now be to develop a spirit in the community that inspires and values academic achievement, and to assure that students receive the cultural enrichment normally available only to the more affluent.