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Achievement Gaps
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What are the Achievement Gaps?

  1. Achievement Gap in Race

    1. Black Students

Early Education May Be Key to Closing the Gap between Blacks and Whites

The black-white gap in employment, earnings, and college education has persisted and in some cases started to grow. A federal report reviews several theories and finds that much of this gap is related to racial differences in elementary and secondary achievement test scores.

Citation:
This reports some of the ideas and findings from the following source:

National Center for Education Statistics (2001).Educational achievement and black-white inequality.U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved August 28, 2002 from http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2001061. Pp. 1-9

To see other reports that originated from this same citation, go to the bibliography.

Why do blacks as a group earn less and have less schooling than whites? A report from the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics finds that educational achievement during elementary and secondary school may account for much of this black-white gap in subsequent academic and labor market performance.

The Racial Gap in Employment and Earnings

The report says that past studies have found a rising black-white gap in unemployment between 1973 and 1993. One explanation is that unemployment grew faster among less-educated workers, who are disproportionately black. Thus, unemployment rose more for black men who dropped out of high school (7 percentage points) than for college graduates (3 percentage points). Other possible explanations include the rising incarceration rate of black men or increasing employment discrimination.

The black-white wage differential held steady or grew slightly during the 1980s after declining over the previous40 years. One researcher attributed this trend to declining unionization and real minimum wage, an economic shift from manufacturing to service-sector jobs, and increases in labor market discrimination. The report says that recent studies have found that from two-thirds to three-fourths of the black-white wage gap for men (and all of the gap for women) can be explained by racial differences in educational achievement.

The Racial Gap in Educational Attainment

The black-white gap in high school graduation rates fell from 16 to 6 percentage points between 1975 and 1998 (partly because of higher rates of completion of GEDs among blacks). However, the racial gap in college completion rates grew from 13 percentage points in 1975 to 17 in percentage points in 1998. One 1989 study pointed to a shift in financial aid (from grants to loans) and more favorable attitudes toward the military.

The report says a 1992 study found that tuition costs, alternatives to schooling, and family background characteristics explain little of the racial gap in educational attainment. More recent studies, however, have found the educational attainment of blacks to be equal to (or higher than) whites with similar levels of family income and education.

The Racial Gap in Educational Achievement

The black-white gap in educational achievement narrowed between the early 1970s and the mid-1980s. Between 1973 and 1996, the average National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores for 17-year-old blacks increased 6% in math and 11% in reading while holding steady for whites. Studies of other tests have found similar declines in the achievement gap, although one found the gap to be widening for children born between 1979 and 1985.

The reports says that several studies have attributed the racial gap in educational achievement to differences in family background, language, or preschool enrollment rather than to differences in school characteristics. Relative improvements in the education and incomes of black parents (rather than desegregation) seem to account for the narrowing of the gap in test scores. However, a 1996 study found that black students made relative gains in NAEP scores despite falling family incomes and a surge in single parenting.

The Bottom Line

Usingfour different sets of data, the NCES report estimates the black-white gap in economic and educational outcomes for blacks as a whole and for blacks with prior educational achievement similar to whites. A comparison of these two estimates shows that:

  • Black women earned as much or more than white women with similar levels of prior educational achievement. Controlling for educational achievement also cut the earnings gap by at least 40% for black men and reduced the employment gap by at least 50% for young blacks as a whole.
  • Blacks were more likely to attend college and at least as likely to graduate as whites with similar levels of prior educational achievement.
  • Blacks scored lower on mathematics and reading tests than whites even after controlling for prior educational achievement. The gap in math test scores fell during elementary school and rose in junior high.

In general, the report finds that black-white gaps in education, employment, and earnings are significantly less if prior educational achievement is taken into account. Other factors may be important too. "[N]onetheless, blacks' relative educational achievement during elementary and secondary school appeared to be highly correlated with their relative success in the academy and the economy," the report concludes (pp. v-vi).

Research Design:

The authors of this report include Cara Olsen, Jennifer King Rice, and Stephen Sweetland of Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., and John Ralph of the National Center for Education Statistics.

The analyses of educational and labor market outcomes used four sets of data (with standard errors adjusted for complex survey designs and multiple imputation used to account for missing data), including the:

  • National Longitudinal Study of the High School Class of 1972 (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics). This sample looked at high school seniors seven years later.
  • National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1983-1989 (U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics). This sample looked at high school students who were seniors between 1976 and 1982 seven years later.
  • National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1986-1992 (U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics). This sample looked at students who were high school sophomores between 1974 and 1980 twelve years later.
  • High School and Beyond, 1992. This sample looked at students who were high school sophomores in 1980 twelve years later.

The analyses of educational achievement outcomes (with math and reading achievement test scores converted to 8th-grade standard deviation units) focused on four samples of children, including:

  • Cohort 1 of the Chapter 1 Prospects Study, which observed children between grades 1 and 2 from 1992 to 1993.
  • Cohort 3 of the Prospects Study, which observed children between grades 3 and 5 from 1991 to 1993.
  • Cohort 7 of the Prospects Study, which observed children between grades 7 and 9 from 1991 to 1993.
  • National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1998, which observed children between grades 10 and 12 from 1990 to 1992.

Statistical analysis was performed for each set of data to compare (mean) differences between blacks and whites, to compare differences holding educational achievement constant, and to compare differences holding multiple characteristics (educational achievement, work experience, parental socioeconomic status, and Census region) constant. Tests of significance were conducted at the p = .05 level.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is the primary federal entity for collecting, analyzing, and reporting data related to education in the United States and other nations.

 



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