Data on Minority Achievement Gaps Vital for Progress, Say Educators

It is important to reshape the structure for opportunities in the country in order to level the educational playing field for all minorities, and the work for equality wasn’t nearly enough done, said Katy Haycock, the director of The Education Trust.

           

Haycock, the recipient of the 2007 Fordham Prize for Valor, was responding to the question posed by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation: “Chief Justice [John] Roberts recently wrote, ‘It’s a sordid business, this divvying us up by race.’ Is he right? If no, what does this sentiment imply for the No Child Left Behind and other initiatives to close the achievement gap?”

“We’ve done the easy parts – appointed committees, talked about closing the [achievement] gaps, things that don’t threaten the privileges,” said Haycock. “But work isn’t really done.”

Also participating in the discussion Monday afternoon was Dr. Abigail Thernstrom, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and vice chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and Dr. Stephan Thernstrom, Winthrop Professor of History at Harvard University. They shared a joint 2007 Fordham Prize for Scholarship with Dr. Paul T. Hill, professor of public affairs at University of Washington.

“The Roberts quote came from a civil rights case,” says Abigail Thernstrom. “The courts are trying for a perfect formula in every setting, including education. I don’t like divvying up. Period. It sends a patronizing, demeaning message. Try teaching the kids instead [that] it doesn’t matter who is sitting next to whom.”

According to Stephan Thernstrom, there is strong evidence that minorities now have a higher graduation rate in the University of California system than when they had preferences in place. “It worked to the benefit of African Americans and Latinos,” he said. “Why should No Child Left Behind offer racial breakups?”

He said government should not even be collecting racial data on student achievement, except for African Americans. “There is a societal interest… given their history, in how at least one group is doing,” he said. “But the U.S. Census should have two boxes: ‘ethnicity/ancestry’ and ‘other.’”

Haycock said data collection was vital to keep track of the status of minorities in the country. “It shows how opportunity plays out in America,” she said. “We haven’t restructured opportunities and until that happens, we’ll keep seeing the gaps.”

According to Hill, NCLB has “made a mess of race.” He said, “To use NCLB for this proposition [racially dividing schools] is a big mistake. It is confounded by the increasing number of immigrants. But as we see Hispanic immigrants progress after every generation, it has not been the same for African Americans.”

However, Haycock said there are a number of public and charter schools that have worked well for minority children  and there are results to show for it.

Abigail Thernstrom said that if schools don’t address the cultural differences between various groups, the achievement gap will not be closed.

“Good schools do change the culture of the school,” she said. “It delivers the message that you can climb the ladder of opportunity regardless of the color of your skin.”

By Shilpa Banerji

 

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