The following collection of data breaks down 4th and 8th grade math scores by state, comparing the performance of poor students to non-poor students. Minnesota's results are highlighted.
Education Achievement Gap
The "achievement gap" refers to the documented difference in academic performance and test results between racial or ethnic groups. In the United States, White and Asian students consistently outperform their Hispanic and African American peers when it comes to measurements such as standardized tests, GPAs, graduation rates, and receiving college degrees.
The tracking of racial achievement differences largely coincided with the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Flanked by efforts to eliminate academic inequalities through desegregation and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Civil Rights era appeared to promise educational parity for future generations. The achievement gap did in fact narrow during the 1970s and '80s, but these gains diminished and then fluctuated up and down during the following two decades.
One of the most referenced measures of the achievement gap is the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—a standardized test given to 4th and 8th graders. The current gap between Black and White 8th graders is 21 points for reading and 28 points for math. The gap between Hispanic and White eighth grade students measures at 26 points for reading and 23 points for math. Other achievement data demonstrates that Native Americans also struggle with high academic achievement; however, Asian American students do just as well and even better than White students.
The achievement gaps vary by state. For instance, those states with the largest achievement gaps include Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Connecticut, and Michigan. The states with the smallest Black-White achievement gap include West Virginia and Hawaii.
Theories abound as to what causes the achievement gaps. The most popular theory is that it's related to poverty and family background. Many minority children are unfortunately growing up in "areas of concentrated poverty," and fail to receive many of the educational benefits that wealthier children regularly experience. These same children often have less educated parents, who are unaware of or unable to give them an early education boost with things such as an expansive vocabulary and other learning techniques. Additionally, the decline of the traditional family – especially the decline of fathers in the home – is thought to play a large part in poor academic achievement.
Peer pressure is also believed to play a role in today's minority achievement gaps, particularly for older students. Harvard professor Roland G. Fryer refers to this phenomenon as "acting white," a situation "in which minority adolescents who get good grades in school enjoy less social popularity than white students who do well academically." According to Fryer's research, White student popularity increases with higher GPAs. However, Black student popularity decreases with higher GPAs, and Hispanic popularity absolutely plummets with increased academic achievement.
Children caught in the achievement gap trap are likely to experience lasting negative effects in their future. Minorities who struggle in primary and secondary schools often continue to have trouble in college and fail to obtain a degree. The absence of a college degree often translates into lower pay in the workforce, which in turn lowers the U.S. economic output. In fact, one study found that closing the achievement gap in the 15 years after the publication of A Nation at Risk would have increased the nation's 2008 GDP by $310 to $525 billion.
The data shows that the achievement gap is a major problem facing America today. Finding a solution agreeable to all parties, however, is another matter. Some say that more money needs to be invested in racially diverse areas. Some suggest that higher standards like stronger reading programs are the key to closing the gap. Others believe that better teachers and longer instruction times are needed. Still others suggest that a stronger emphasis on social skills such as respect and discipline is the answer to the problem.
This topic provides a variety of facts, figures, and data on the extent of the achievement gap, and offers a variety of opinions and potential solutions to increase the academic achievement of America's children.
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