Study Shows Progress on Closing Achievement Gap Stalled

The Educational Testing Service has released a new report showing that after a long period of progress in narrowing the educational attainment and achievement gaps between African-American and white students, that progress has stalled. The report, The Black-White Achievement Gap: When Progress Stopped, includes unsettling research that indicates reaching equality could take 50 to 100 years if current patterns continue.

The report examines three time periods. Beginning with the 1970s and 80s,  the gaps in reading and math NAEP scores narrowed substantially. But since the late 1980s, there has been a sustained period of stagnation. Things changed at the beginning of the 20th century:  the gap in educational attainment levels first started to narrow.

The authors of the report describe several factors that could be implicated in blocking continued progress, such as inadequate care in early childhood, the decline of communities and neighborhoods, the increase of single-parent families, the employment plight of African-American males, and stalled inter-generational mobility out of disadvantaged neighborhoods. The effect of the lack of movement of succeeding generations becomes cumulative for successive generations. In ETS’s press release, the study’s authors said:

The data show that many Black people have been stuck in neighborhoods deprived of social and economic capital for several generations. Although only 5% of White children born between 1955 and 1970 grew up in highly-disadvantaged neighborhoods, 84% of Black children did so. Approaches to restart progress will require addressing this problem on multiple levels. Entire neighborhoods may have to be uplifted in terms of their economic capital, school quality, safety and health structures.

For more information:

New National Numbers on High-poverty Schools

The National Center for Education Statistics has just released its 2010 Condition of Education report, an in-depth examination of 49 indicators on the state of education across the country. This year’s report includes a special section devoted to profiling high-poverty public schools and their students, staff, and outcomes.


The report used the percentage of students who were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL) through the National School Lunch Program to determine school poverty status. High-poverty schools had 76 to 100% of students eligible for FRPL and low-poverty schools had up to 25% of students eligible.

How does this compare to Boston? According to the most recent data from the Boston Foundation’s Indicators project, approximately 71% of Boston Public School students–roughly 40,000 students–qualify for FRPL. Nationally, there were 16,122 schools that were considered high-poverty, which shows a 5% increase over the past decade (12% of schools in 1999-2000 versus 17 percent in 2007-08).

The report says that for both elementary and secondary schools, there was little difference between the distribution of school support staff between  high- and low-poverty schools. At high-poverty elementary schools, 62% of all staff were professional instructional staff, 5% were student services professional staff, 16%  were aides, and 17% were other staff. The numbers at low-poverty elementary schools were very similar.

Despite the staffing levels being nearly identical, the report reiterated the outcomes of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessments in reading, mathematics, music, and art, where students from high-poverty schools did not perform as well as students from low-poverty schools.

  • The full report is available here.

Boston Increases Reading Scores on Nation’s Report Card

Good news for Boston in the latest release from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP):

Fourth graders in Boston Public Schools had NAEP reading scores higher than the national average for public school students in large cities in 2009. Of the 11 urban districts examined, Boston was one of four that showed an increase in average reading scores. You can view more data about Boston’s fourth grade reading scores here.

NAEP also surveyed eighth graders’ reading proficiency. While they too had above average reading scores for public school students in large cities, there was no significant difference between the 2009 and 2007 results.  Eighth grade reading scores are available here.

However, urban schools still lag behind the nationwide average. Taking all of the 11 urban districts’ results into consideration, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan issued a statement:

Today’s report shows that the reading achievement of students in our largest cities has increased over time. At the same time, the results also show that cities have significant work to do . . . In cities, towns, and rural areas across the country, we have to work together so that all children are receiving the world-class education they deserve.

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