Categorizing by race and focusing on the racial achievement gap is perilous, writes William Saletan on Slate.
“Lower-performing 9- and 13-year-olds make gains,” says one section of the NAEP report.”No significant change for 17-year-olds at any performance level,” says another. “Reading scores improve for 9-year-old public and private school students over long term,” says a third. “Score increases for 17-year-olds whose parents did not finish high school,” says a fourth. These tables organize the data by factors that can help us target and adjust educational policy: kids with low scores, kids in public school, kids in high school, kids whose parents didn’t graduate. I’d like to see tables for income and spending per pupil, too. But race? Does that category really help? And what message does it send to kids when headlines assert a persistent “racial gap”?
Socioeconomic factors, such as parents’ education and income, don’t explain racial and ethnic differences. For example, middle-class blacks score lower than average, while low-income Asian-American students earn above-average scores. I’d like to see schools work harder at creating a culture of learning within the school and explaining to parents how they can support this culture at home.