Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Schools didn't start it. Achievement gaps start earlier.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showed a significant narrowing of the achievement gap between blacks and non-Hispanic whites on reading and mathematical tests between 1971 and 1996. Although the NAEP did not begin collecting data until 1971, the seventeen year-olds it tested in 1971 were born in 1954 and entered school around 1960. Their scores, therefore, reflect the cumulative effects of home and community environments dating from the late 1950s and 1960s including: 1) national efforts to equalize opportunity and reduce poverty that began in the mid-1960s and continued or expanded in the subsequent decades [Head Start, compensatory funding for poor schools, affirmative action]...all of these policies are likely to have helped blacks more than whites; 2) Educational changes that were not primarily intended to equalize opportunity [such as increased spending and early schooling]; 3) Changes in families and communities that may have been influenced by efforts to equalize opportunity and reduce poverty but occurred mainly for other reasons. [Parents had more formal education, more affluent blacks moved to the suburbs].

The importance of social programs to the success of school students appears to be significant and direct. During the presidency of Lyndon Johnson, when such programs flourished, the gap began to narrow. After the cuts made to social programs during the Ronald Reagan administration, the gap grew. What happens to children outside of the school greatly impacts the results seen inside the school.

Blaming teachers and schools for creating and tolerating achievement gaps may be effective as political rhetoric, but as policy it is not going to produce satisfactory results...only more promises and blame.

This from Elaine Weiss in the Society Pages:
For all of its craziness and scariness, the 2016 election campaign has hammered home for millions of Americans the degree to which massive inequities permeate our daily lives and threaten our democracy.

educational policy Unfortunately, understanding how inequalities affect us has yet to permeate the education policy world. While the transition from narrow, punitive No Child Left Behind Act to the Every Student Succeeds Act represents real progress, there is still a widespread belief that schools are the main drivers of achievement gaps and that they can, and should, be responsible for closing them. Correcting this fallacy is critical to getting the education system we need – one that is both equitable and excellent – and will help correct some of those larger inequities as well.
In reality, the same systemic forces that have sucked most of the income and wealth from the bottom half of our population in recent decades and channeled it into the top one percent have substantially widened income-based achievement gaps. Without intentional measures to direct a broad range of educational and other resources to reversing that trend, gaps will continue to grow. And because big disparities in parents’ – and society’s – investments in children begin at birth, those resources need to be channeled early.

Many of us know that students from poor families, and especially low-income students of color, are often two to three years behind by the time they begin high school. What is far less widely known is that those same students began school that far behind. In other words, our highly inequitable school system, which consigns students with the greatest deficits to the least credentialed and experienced teachers, is doing more to maintain gaps that children brought with them on their first day of kindergarten than to create them.

A study by my colleague, Emma Garcia, finds that, in fact, students in the bottom social class quintile lagged their highest-social class peers by a full standard deviation in both reading and math at kindergarten entry. Those same students were about half a standard deviation behind on such social emotional skills as persistence, self-control, and social interactions, which are equally critical to academic, and life, success. Mind you, education researchers typically translate that “standard deviation” into two or three years of schooling. Let that sink in: one in five students start kindergarten one to three years behind, whether behaviorally or academically.

When we looked across racial groups, the gaps were smaller, and could be explained substantially by social class. Given that nearly half of black five-year-olds who started school in 2010-11, and almost two thirds of English-Language Learner Hispanic children, versus just 13 percent of their white peers, are living in poverty, however, shifting the comparison groups doesn’t improve those students’ real life contexts.

Schools didn’t start these problems. And the evidence tells us that schools alone can’t fix them.

Early fixes that will work. 

Luckily, there is also some very good news on this front. Unlike fixes for our bigger, broader societal inequities, strategies for closing these early childhood gaps are well understood, extensively documented, and, miraculously, have fairly wide support across the political spectrum. A paper just published by five EPI researchers lays out both the multiple societal problems created by our failure to make the needed public investments in quality early child care and education, and the broad set of benefits to be reaped from righting that wrong.

First and foremost, an ambitious national investment in early childhood care and education would help get all our children to the starting gate in much better shape. Another recent study, conducted jointly by the National Institute for Early Education Research and the Center for American Progress, suggests that universal pre-k alone would narrow math gaps by between 45 percent and 78 percent (black- white and Hispanic-white gaps, respectively) and virtually eliminate pre-kindergarten reading gaps.

But the benefits to the investments we propose extend much further. Ensuring a living wage for child care providers would not only improve their quality of life and enhance their contributions to the economy, but help stabilize the workforce and, ultimately, benefit the children they care for. Because child care is such a burden for young families – as expensive as rent or more so in many cases – making high-quality child care available would provide a benefit of about $11,000 annually for Florida families with an infant and a preschool-aged child who are earning the state median income. And removing this barrier to women’s workforce participation would help bring American women in line with their international peers, with potential gains to the gross domestic product of as much as $600 billion annually.

As the election comes closer, we must continue to push all candidates in both parties to focus on the severe problems working Americans face. Let’s make the early childhood investments we suggest front and center. By our analysis they are low hanging fruit—politically and economically.
Elaine Weiss is the National Coordinator for the Broader Bolder Approach to Education, where she works with four co-chairs, a high-level Advisory Board, and multiple coalition partners to promote a comprehensive, evidence-based set of policies to allow all children to thrive in school and life.


Richard Innes said...


Your blog says:

“The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showed a significant narrowing of the achievement gap between blacks and non-Hispanic whites on reading and mathematical tests between 1971 and 1996.”

I don’t see that.

I went into the NAEP Long Term Trend Data Explorer to see if this assertion is true. I Iooked at scores both broken out by four racial groups and six racial groups.

The first reading scores available by race in the Data Explorer are for 1975 for the four racial group category. The 1971 scores are not available by race. For the six racial group category, reading scores by race for both 1971 and 1975 are not available in the Data Explorer. If these disaggregated scores exist at all, they probably were found to have problems that led to NCES suppressing them.

So, no white versus black NAEP reading gap can be computed prior to 1975.

For math, the first available scores in the Data Explorer are for 1978 (for both four and six racial groups). There is no gap analysis data available prior to this year in the NAEP Long Term Trend Data Explorer.

We can discuss gap trends from the NAEP Long Term Trend Data Explorer’s Gap Analysis tool for years from 1975 (reading) and 1978 (math). But, there is a strong caution necessary. NAEP is a sampled assessment and it takes a fairly notable change before a change in gaps can be declared statistically significant. In most cases, due to small sample sizes and commensurately relatively large sampling errors, what some portray as changes are in fact just ties.

Anyway, the real gap closure in reading occurred between 1975 and 1988, falling from 52 to just 20 points. The gap then rose sharply between 1988 and 1992 to 37 points. However, after that the gap again started to be reduced to its most recent, 26 point level in 2012. That’s not much different from the gap in 1988.

There hasn’t been growth in the NAEP Age 17 Long Term Trend Reading gap for whites and blacks for some time. In fact, the only time there was a lower reading gap than in 2012 was back in 1988.

The math gap did something similar. It dropped from 38 points in 1978 to 21 points in 1990. It then drifted up to 31 points by 1999 and then slid back down slightly to 26 points in 2012. The only time the most recent, 2012 gap of 26 points was bested was in 1990.

Essentially, the gaps have oscillated around a little for the past two and a half decades through several changes of Republican and Democrat administrations.

However, the gaps have not continued to grow as Elaine Weiss alleges. They have more or less remained fairly constant since the early 1990s.

Furthermore, since the NAEP itself says the results don’t establish cause and effect relationships, the allegations from Ms. Weiss are mostly interesting speculation, at best.

Richard Day said...

I didn't take the time yesterday to provide a source for this. Sorry. It comes from Jencks & Phillips' book, The Black White Test Score Gap. See: Why Did the Black-White Score Gap Narrow in the 1970s & 1980s? by Grissmer, Flanagan and Williamson...p 182-226.