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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Closing the Racial Achievement Gap, Or Not

A contrarian view, to be sure, but I can’t say the author’s wrong:

In 2015, MCPS (Montgomery County, MD, Public Schools) embarked on a large-scale “equity and excellence” initiative sparked by the findings of a large racial achievement gap in the county. They transformed their entire choice and magnet school programs to give racial preferences to blacks and Hispanics. They established a “Racial Equity and Social Justice Program,” hired extra staff to promote MCPS equity initiatives, and invested huge sums of money in things like implicit bias training. They have even required seemingly irrelevant departments like the MCPS Facilities Management Department to write and sign equity statements. All in all, they have spent countless hours of energy—and more than $120 million of federal government money—on these achievement gap efforts since 2015. The idea of closing the racial achievement gap has been a common theme in public school boards across America for the past 40 years. But have these efforts been successful? A new report by the Montgomery County Office of Legislative Oversight reveals that they have not. It found that MCPS’s initiatives are doing little to stem the tide of the increasing racial achievement gap in the county. Says the December 2019 report: “a review of the data evidences a wide performance gap that has not diminished by race or ethnicity among a majority of the metrics reviewed.” This report comes in spite of all of these efforts to fix this gap. But what if these efforts seem fruitless because these school boards are focusing on narrow, misleading measurements of success instead of the broader picture? What if closing the “racial achievement gap” is not a useful measure of a school district’s success or failure, and of the success of low-income blacks and Hispanics in particular? As it turns out, the racial achievement gap is a heavily flawed metric, and often tells a distorted story of a county’s truly educational progress, which is then co-opted for political ends.

The closing is even more direct:

All of these reforms, made in the name of improving “racial equity,” and directly linked to closing the racial achievement gap, have instead stoked anger within the county community and failed to improve the outcomes of the lowest performing students in the school system. This tends to happen when school boards define goals based on terms like “race” and “gap,” which inherently split and divide communities for political ends. What should be done instead is to focus on managing the school’s resources in a way that will actually improve the outcomes of these students’ lives. This doesn’t mean undermining those students who are already successful in an attempt to flatten the racial achievement gap and make administrators feel better about themselves. Montgomery County offers us an important lesson in the fallacy of simple “tell-all” statistics. The reality, as usual, is complicated and the solutions are rarely simple.
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