New Study Shows Achievement Gap Persists

A study released yesterday from the Council of the Great City Schools, an organization representing 66 of the nation’s large urban public school districts,  reports that the achievement gap in education may be wider than has been acknowledged. “A Call for Change: The Social and Educational Factors Contributing to the Outcomes of Black Males in Urban Schools” (pdf) looked at the differences between black and white students’ academic and social achievement and concludes that young black males in America are in a state of crisis, performing lower than their peers on almost every indicator. The study examined African-American males’  readiness to learn, National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) scores, college and career preparedness, school experience, and post-secondary experience. Findings include:

·Black children were twice as likely to live in a household where no parent had full-time or year-round employment in 2008. And in 2007, one out of every three black children lived in poverty compared with one out of every 10 white children.

· On the 2009 fourth grade NAEP reading assessment, only 12% of black male students nationally and 11% of those living in large central cities performed at or above proficient levels, compared with 38% of white males nationwide. The average African-American fourth and eighth grade male who is not poor does no better in reading and math on NAEP than white males who are poor.

· Black males were nearly twice as likely to drop out of high school as white males. Black male students nationally scored an average 104 points lower than white males on the SAT college entrance examination in reading.

· Black students were less likely to participate in academic clubs, more likely to be suspended from school, and more likely to be retained in grade than their white peers.

· The unemployment rate among black males ages 20 and over (17.3%) was twice as high as the unemployment rate among white males of the same age (8.6%) earlier this year. In 2008, black males ages 18 and over accounted for 5% of the college population, while black males accounted for 36%of the nation’s prison population.

The Council would like the White House to convene a conference where a comprehensive plan of action could be established.

For more information:

The Best & Worst Cities for School Reform in the US

A new study by Rick Hess, director of education studies at the American Enterprise Institute, and colleagues identifies nine cities in the U.S. which cultivate an environment amenable to school reform efforts: New Orleans, Washington D.C., New York City, Denver, Jacksonville, Charlotte, Austin, Houston, and Fort Worth.

The study, “America’s Best (and Worst) Cities for School Reform: Attracting Entrepreneurs and Change Agents,” [pdf] was published by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The authors analyzed six domains that they determined influenced a city’s receptivity to education reform and looked at publicly available data, national and local surveys, and interviews with on-the-ground insiders. These domains included:

  • Human Capital: access to talented individuals
  • Financial Capital: availability of private and/or public funds
  • Charter Environment: often a primary pipeline for entrepreneurs
  • Quality Control: solid metrics guiding entrepreneurial ventures
  • District Environment: capacity and appetite to support reforms
  • Municipal Environment: support from the local community, media, and government

Analysts then created a grading metric that rated each city on its individual and collective accomplishments in each of the domains.

Did Boston make the grade?

The study gave Boston an overall grade of C. Ranking 15 of 26 cities, the report says Boston is a “middling local for education entrepreneurs.” Here are the author’s assessment of the Boston’s six domains:

  • Human Capital: Average–“but not because of average talent in the city… The city receives low marks due to meager penetration of brand name alternately trained teachers and principals.” Ranked 10/26.
  • Financial Capital: “Not hard to come by … Boston Public Schools maintains fairly high per-pupil expenditures compared to other cities.” Ranked 12/25.
  • Charter Environment: “Could stand some improvement … the state’s board of education is known for being particularly selective.” Ranked 15/24.
  • Quality Control: The strongest category because the rigor of the statewide MCAS tests “rivals that of NAEP.” Ranked 10/25.
  • District Environment: “Presents a stumbling block to entrepreneurs … The district speaks out for education reform, but it has done little to advance significant change.” Ranked 26/26.
  • Municipal Environment: “Promising” with philanthropies, business, government, and media supportive of reform efforts. Ranked 6/25.

The bottom line, according to the authors, is that Boston’s “leadership is dynamic and strong; funding avenues are relatively wide; and the city’s human capital pipelines and charter sectors are improving. But charter authorizing policies, state data systems, and the district environment in Boston Public Schools all need more of a reform makeover.”

For more information:

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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