Minority gains ended in Obama era

Racial/ethnic achievement gaps were narrowing, till the Obama administration waived and weakened No Child Left Behind, writes Paul Peterson, who directs Harvard’s program on Education Policy and Governance, in a Wall Street Journal commentary.

During the Clinton-Bush era (1999 to 2008), white 9-year-olds gained 11 points in math, African-American student performance rose by 13 points and Hispanic student performance leaped by 21 points. In reading, the gains by white 9-year-olds went up seven points, black performance jumped by 18 points and Hispanic student achievement climbed 14 points.

For the first nine years, the average annual gains were six points for African-Americans, five points for Hispanics and three points for whites.

In 2008, President Obama campaigned against No Child Left Behind’s testing and accountability provisions, writes Peterson. Once elected, he “halted enforcement of most of No Child’s key provisions and offered waivers to states that signed up for more lenient rules devised by the Education Department.”

Between 2008-12, gains by African-Americans at age 9 were just two points in each subject, while Hispanics gained one point in reading and nothing in math. Whites gained one point in reading and two points in math.

The racial achievement gap has widened slightly.

Now, “the Obama administration, teachers unions and some Republicans are joining forces to gut core provisions” of No Child Left Behind, which is up for reauthorization, writes Peterson.

The latest bill promoted by the Senate education committee calls for testing but allows states to let students submit “portfolios” or “projects” in lieu of the standardized tests required by the original law.

He has more in Education Next.

The Obama administration isn’t “serious” about passing a new Elementary and Secondary Education Act to replace No Child Left Behind, even though Sen. Tom Harkin’s bill is “close to the administration’s vision,” writes Alyson Klein on Ed Week‘s Politics K-12. “With waivers in place in 39 states and the District of Columbia, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is instead spending his time and effort on prekindergarten, a policy that probably has even less of a shot in a Congress bent on cracking down on spending.”

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  1. Everywhere in the world racial and ethnic groups of all sorts differ substantially in education and achievement. For example in the US the IQ gap between white gentiles and Ashkenazi Jews is roughly three-quarters the size of the gap between whites and blacks. Nobody seems to worry about it. In recent years the test gap between whites and Asians has increased significantly. Nobody bats an eye.
    Our increasing obsession with closing the white/black achievement gap is pathological.

  2. First, you titled your post “Minority gains ended in Obama era”. That’s not what the article says. It says that gains slowed. Which, frankly, is exactly what one would expect a decade after people started to pick up the low hanging fruit, isn’t it.

    To be useful, rather than speaking about “average” we would be presented with annual data such that we could see the trend. One would expect the trend to show acceleration during the implementation of effective reforms, with subsequent diminishing returns.

    Peterson knows this – in 2008 he wrote about “giving up the cherished but decidedly unrealistic goal of proficiency for all students by 2014” – if you can expect to see gains maintained at a consistent level, year after year, decade after decade, there’s nothing “cherished” about it – eventually we’ll be living in Lake Wobegon, and all of our children will be above average. It’s only if you concede up front that the gains will diminish to zero that you have to “give up” the idea that all children will achieve proficiency, in which case the WSJ editorial is nonsense.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      As long as white proficiency is greater than black proficiency, the rate of black improvement has to be greater than the rate of white improvement for both groups to attain equal proficiency.

      This is a matter of simple arithmetic and is true whether potential proficiency is 100% or 80% or anything else greater than or equal to present white proficiency.

      I hope we can all agree that the goal of 100% proficiency is not realistic.

    • What the article actually says is “Those remarkable gains came to an end after the Obama administration took charge.”

      I think that statement can be reasonably interpreted to mean that minority gains ended in the Obama era.

      Also, a trend is presented. There’s data from, 1999 through 2012 presented in a format appropriate to an editorial. What one expects may or may not be a valid comment on the policy but simple dismissal of the results suggests prejudgement on your part.

      Your phony standard of “gains maintained at a consistent level, year after year, decade after decade” supports the view that you’re less interested in measuring the value of the policy then in giving voice to your prejudice.

      And with regard to your invocation of Lake Woebegone High School’s motto it’s teachers who are, in the real world, all found to be above average.