Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Measuring Inequities:  Education ‘Gaps’ in US Cities

Just in case anyone you know still believes that the claims of the No Child Left Behind “raised academic standards” and “closed the [racial] achievement gap,” an important new report by Next America gives stark evidence that the gaps not only persist, but are widest in those cities that are otherwise “doing well.”

Next America drew on data from 150 metropolitan areas to analyze high school graduation attainment and undergraduate degree attainment by city.   The gaps between attainment by whites and Hispanics and those between whites and African Americans are represented in interactive graphs.

Although the persistence of these gaps may not be surprising to anyone aware of the growing disparities of wealth and poverty in our country (an issue not addressed in this report), several findings are worth highlighting:  Some of the “narrow” gaps between whites’ educational attainment and that of blacks are due to very low attainment by whites, not rising attainment by African Americans in the same city.   

The political and cultural contexts are beyond the scope of the Next America study, but need to be filled in if we are to create schools, and communities, where all children can thrive.  For example, many of the cities with low African American and Hispanic educational attainment are in Florida, where claims of successful education reform under Jeb Bush’s governorship have led other states to adopt Florida’s “A to F” grading system for schools and reliance on standardized accountability and charter chains for “reform.”   The starving of public schools and public services by legislatures and conservatives in Congress are complicit in these gaps, but, again, not analyzed in this study.

In the words of the report, 

  • Big disparities define Sunbelt metropolitan areas rapidly adding jobs and population, such as Houston (where 41 percent of whites but only 24 percent of African-Americans and 12 percent of Hispanics hold college degrees).
  • In many cases, the gaps are smallest only in cities that are struggling to attract and hold college graduates of any race: Of the 67 metro areas with the smallest disparities between white and black college-completion levels, about three-fourths rank in the bottom half of college attainment among adult whites.
  • The gap in attainment between adult whites and African-Americans is much lower at the high school level than the college level. Though wider differences remain with Hispanics, the picture for them also looks brighter than at the post-secondary level.

The Next America report focuses on the implication of these “gaps” for the future of our economy.  The larger issue is whether our democracy can survive – and thrive – with so many of our youth excluded from the education they need for their personal development and their empowerment as citizens.

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