Ed Trust: Low-income kids hit ‘glass ceiling’

While low achievers are catching up, racial achievement gaps are widening at the advanced level, concludes Education Trust in a new report, Breaking the Glass Ceiling of Achievement for Low-Income Students and Students of Color.

Over time, the percent of students scoring at the “below basic” level of performance has declined markedly. . . . the declines are biggest for black, Hispanic, and low-income students. Yet, while the percent of white and higher income students scoring at the “advanced” level has increased significantly in recent years, there has been little progress among students of color and low-income students, so gaps at this level have widened. . . . In 2011, for example, roughly 1 in 10 white fourth-graders reached advanced in math, compared to only 1 in 50 Hispanic fourth-graders and 1 in 100 black fourth-graders.

Poverty is not the only issue, Ed Trust reports. In some grades and subjects, higher-income black students are no more likely than low-income whites to test as advanced. For example, 3 percent of each of these groups reached advanced in fourth-grade math in 2011.

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  1. At the HS level, there’s far less pressure on affluent blacks and Hispanics to have lots of AP classes/4-5s on tests, high SAT/ACT scores and lots of significant extracurrriculars with leadership than there is on whites – and especially on Asians, which is a gap that is usually ignored. Affirmative action means that blacks and Hispanics are accepted with significantly weaker records, and they knew this when my older kids were in HS in the 80s-90s. I wonder whether this is part of the issue, for those kids.

  2. Poverty is the issue. One-size-fits-all classrooms don’t have time to teach the advanced topics. Too much time is spent on remedial and basic for the benefit of the included. “In-the-know” parents afterschool to make up for the lack of academics in the school, since they are after the honors seats in 7th grade.

    • That is certainly true in some, perhaps in the majority of schools, but certainly not in the DC suburban area where my kids were schooled. All of the kids were middle class and most were upper middle. This is the (relatively) low-achieving group for which I have read no satisfactory explanation other than the observation – often explicitly stated by my kids’ classmates – above. The college-admission pressure driving whites and Asians is far less for blacks and Hispanics. The high-achieving ones really resent it too; they arrive at college with records to match the best of their classmates, who assume they are affirmative-action admits with weak academics.

  3. Is there going to be any point where we just let the chips fall where they may, and stop trying to control the uncontrollable (genetics, parenting, one’s own willpower and ambition, etc.?)

    • No Garak – not until there’s a paradigm shift in the attitudes driving policy. The results of letting the chips fall would rile up people all across the board.

      It’s sad, because any honest statistician would admit that the goals of the regime (no gaps in testing between groups) are pretty meaningless (but well meaning), unless we subject the students to weak and useless tests. Either I’m getting cynical, or I’m starting to think like a Cardassian.

      • That would be an honest, but naive or courageous, statistician since any such admission casts doubt on the nobility of those who see the achievement gap as evidence of widespread racism. That would make our statistician a lightening rod for the outrage of that self-appointed nobility. Why bother if there’s nothing to be gained?

        With regard to this post, bumping the low-achieving kids up to minimally-acceptable levels of achievement is the educational “low-hanging fruit”. Any random bunch of teachers, even in rotten districts, ought to be able to push kids to that level of attainment with no more then a modest degree of encouragement from the administration.

        Going beyond desultory mediocrity however is a rather more difficult chore and one for which I don’t believe the current system will be capable of providing the proper encouragement. The swelling tide of support for anything but the current system suggests I’m not the only one who’s arrived at that conclusion.

  4. Sorry Garak. This issue won’t die until all children have classes appropriate to their instructional needs. Those that come in to Kindy with the skills of an affluent two year old are struggling, and those that come in at the third grade level are bored out of their skulls. Parents are not agreeing that “no child gets ahead” actually works, and many want seats opened in the honors program for their academically qualified children who are currently shut out by politicians or by teachers who refuse to teach in anything other than an auditory fashion to the visual/spatial children. Additionally, many want appropriate classes for their high school students — that means the return of AP/IB/Honors in diverse districts. “Don’t hand me a frickin’ packet” young man is spot on. Quit wasting time. Teach to all learners, or get out of Dodge.

    • lgm: You might enjoy checking out the WaPo’s education section (under local news). There are regular whines about anything smelling faintly like giving bright and motivated kids more challenging work, whether it’s leveled classes or special programs, usually combined with a plea for more resources for the kids at the bottom. There’s significant animus toward the Thomas Jefferson math/tech magnet HS, which is often described as too elitist and lacking in diversity (right kind thereof). The “bright kids will do fine, anyway” meme has been around at least since the 30s, when my FIL started teaching, and is still trotted out to justify ignoring the educational needs of a significant percentage of students. I’ve pretty much reached the point that the current system can’t be fixed (too much political power) and should therefore be shut down. Every kid gets a voucher (locally determined amount) that can be used at any school of the parents’ choice. Also, drop mandatory attendance to age 14 or completion of 8th grade, so HS could be limited to kids who want to work.

      • Drop attendance to 14 (or 8th grade equivalent)? OK, now, what do we do with all these whippersnappers who want to work at 14?

        At best, the cold reality of having little human capital will set in and the kiddos will quickly get back in school. IF the schools are set up to teach useful stuff, that’s good; if we continue with same old, same old; nothing’s learned. Part of what got us to universal schooling was a desire by the labor movement to keep little kids from depressing wages for working types. And unhappiness about the whole Johnny Tremain thing…

        Is “kids who want to work” code for real standards? That some kids might not pass even if they exert a modicum of effort? AND this has been communicated to the folks involved? That experiment would be worth doing.

        • Sean. you are one of the minority who knows some of the history of compulsory schooling. Yes, I’m advocating real standards instead of the current pretense that “all” can pass any meaningful standard. Start with kindergarten; behave, learn the material or don’t pass. One of the twin brothers in my first-grade class didn’t make it out with his brother. In addition, no taxpayer-funded economic support of any kind for dropouts; no food stamps, nothing.

  5. Roger Sweeny says:

    Explanations for the black/white difference in performance seem to fall into three broad categories.

    1. It’s white people’s fault and can be fixed. Black children disproportionately grow up in poverty and go to bad schools with bad teachers. There are stronger (“America is structurally racist.”) and weaker versions of this basic idea. It is the default position of most people.

    2. It’s black people’s fault and can be fixed. Black kids’ parents don’t give them the stimulation and intellectual opportunities that they need to perform well in school. Families are disproportionately dysfunctional. “Compassionate conservatives” believe a combination of this and number 1.

    3. It’s nobody’s fault and can’t be fixed. Black people are, on average, genetically less smart than white people. This is an explanation that very few people (myself included) want to believe. However, it will not die, partly because of unpleasant data like, “In some grades and subjects, higher-income black students are no more likely than low-income whites to test as advanced.”

    • it will not die, partly because of unpleasant data like, “In some grades and subjects, higher-income black students are no more likely than low-income whites to test as advanced.”

      Far more devastating to the Blank Slate hypothesis is the Minnesota Transracial Adoption Study.

      This is an explanation that very few people (myself included) want to believe.

      If something is obviously true, not wanting to believe it is irrelevant.  Failing to believe it is, at best, delusion.

  6. There is of course no reason to expect that intelligence is any more evenly distributed between different racial/ethnic groups than other traits such as height etc. The empirical evidence shows a large variation in measured IQ from about 55 for Mbuti pygmies to about 110-115 for Ashkenazi Jews.

    • So, I take it that we’re not likely to see Mbuti pygmies plant their flag on the Moon one day, but there will probably be a dome of nothing but Ashkenazi Jews on Mars one day…

      • Engineer-Poet says:

        there will probably be a dome of nothing but Ashkenazi Jews on Mars one day…

        Not bloody likely.  They need SOMEBODY to buy retail.

  7. Roger, the high correlation of illegitimacy and all kinds of poor outcomes is shoved under the proverbial rug. It holds even outside of low-SES “families”, but the combination of young, poorly-educated mother and absent father is tying a huge ball and chain onto the offspring. That’s a “root cause” of poverty and dysfunction that the people that advocate for more funding to address the “root causes of poverty” aren’t willing to mention. Middle and upper-middle-class kids can control themselves (at least enough to use protection) but others can’t? That seems to be the assumption.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      I would put that analysis under 2. “[T]he combination of poorly-educated mother and absent father” is hardly limited to black folks (see e.g. Charles Murray’s latest book) but is much more common there. The problem is fixable by using birth control, staying in school, and generally learning to “defer gratification.”

      • Richard Aubrey says:

        Problem is that the people involved are the ones who are going to have to do it. As of now, they’re not. Any reason they might see things differently?
        Considering that they see what they see now and they don’t change.
        Yes, we think we see problems that ought to generate change.
        We’re not the ones who need to change.

  8. If you’re smart enough to figure out how to go to Mars you wouldn’t go there. There is nothing to eat, drink or even breath and if you are outside during a solar flare the radiation would kill you. It makes a lot more sense to try to survive at the South Pole.

    • Engineer-Poet says:

      Reasons to go to Mars include lots of unique planetary history to research, and the distance from hostile groups and authorities.