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Steady Gains and Stalled Progress

Steady Gains and Stalled Progress: Inequality and the Black-White Test Score Gap

Katherine Magnuson
Jane Waldfogel
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Steady Gains and Stalled Progress
    Book Description:

    Addressing the disparity in test scores between black and white children remains one of the greatest social challenges of our time. Between the 1960s and 1980s, tremendous strides were made in closing the achievement gap, but that remarkable progress halted abruptly in the mid 1980s, and stagnated throughout the 1990s. How can we understand these shifting trends and their relation to escalating economic inequality? In Steady Gains and Stalled Progress, interdisciplinary experts present a groundbreaking analysis of the multifaceted reasons behind the test score gap—and the policies that hold the greatest promise for renewed progress in the future. Steady Gains and Stalled Progress shows that while income inequality does not directly lead to racial differences in test scores, it creates and exacerbates disparities in schools, families, and communities—which do affect test scores. Jens Ludwig and Jacob Vigdor demonstrate that the period of greatest progress in closing the gap coincided with the historic push for school desegregation in the 1960s and 1970s. Stagnation came after efforts to integrate schools slowed down. Today, the test score gap is nearly 50 percent larger in states with the highest levels of school segregation. Katherine Magnuson, Dan Rosenbaum, and Jane Waldfogel show how parents’ level of education affects children’s academic performance: as educational attainment for black parents increased in the 1970s and 1980s, the gap in children’s test scores narrowed. Sean Corcoran and William Evans present evidence that teachers of black students have less experience and are less satisfied in their careers than teachers of white students. David Grissmer and Elizabeth Eiseman find that the effects of economic deprivation on cognitive and emotional development in early childhood lead to a racial divide in school readiness on the very first day of kindergarten. Looking ahead, Helen Ladd stresses that the task of narrowing the divide is not one that can or should be left to schools alone. Progress will resume only when policymakers address the larger social and economic forces behind the problem. Ronald Ferguson masterfully interweaves the volume’s chief findings to highlight the fact that the achievement gap is the cumulative effect of many different processes operating in different contexts. The gap in black and white test scores is one of the most salient features of racial inequality today. Steady Gains and Stalled Progress provides the detailed information and powerful insight we need to understand a complicated past and design a better future.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-374-6
    Subjects: Education, Business

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. About the Authors
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-30)
    Katherine Magnuson and Jane Waldfogel

    A hundred and forty-five years after the Emancipation Proclamation and fifty-five years afterBrown v. Board of Education, segregation is no longer the law of the land, and in principle black and white children have the benefit of equal opportunities. Yet, across many dimensions, black Americans do not start life on equal footing with their white neighbors. Racial and economic inequalities shape children’s experiences from very early on and as a result, on average, black and white children face very different life chances. For example, the average black child spends nearly six years in poverty, in contrast to less than...


    • Chapter 1 Inequality and Black-White Achievement Trends in the NAEP
      (pp. 33-65)
      Katherine Magnuson, Dan T. Rosenbaum and Jane Waldfogel

      How do recent changes in economic inequality and related social dimensions of inequality relate to trends in black-white test score gaps? In this chapter, we provide new evidence on the question, analyzing the links between inequality and black-white achievement trends for nine-year-olds using the National Assessment of Educational Progress Long-Term Trend data (NAEP-LTT) from 1975 to 2004. The NAEP-LTT series is the best single source of data on trends in black and white test scores, but contains only limited data on family-level factors. We therefore augment it by merging in information about the average characteristics of black and white families...

    • Chapter 2 Changes in Families, Schools, and the Test Score Gap
      (pp. 66-109)
      Mark Berends and Roberto V. Peñaloza

      Systematic empirical examination of the effects of changes between and within schools on student achievement has been of theoretical and empirical import for many years. Some researchers raise concerns that worsening family environments and schools have negative consequences for students’ educational outcomes (Christensen 1990; Haveman and Wolfe 1994; Herrnstein and Murray 1994; Murray and Herrnstein 1992; Popenoe 1993; Uhlenberg and Eggebeen 1986). Not all research, however, supports the claims about the negative effects of changes in families and schools on student achievement (Berliner and Biddle 1995; Campbell, Hombo, and Mazzeo 2000; Cook and Evans 2000; Grissmer et al. 1994; Hedges...

    • Chapter 3 Income Inequality and Racial Gaps in Test Scores
      (pp. 110-136)
      Mary E. Campbell, Robert Haveman, Tina Wildhagen and Barbara L. Wolfe

      Income inequality among American families has grown steadily since the 1980s, as has the racial-ethnic income gap (Lichter and Eggebeen 1993). These trends are documented in table 3.1, which shows that the standard deviation of U.S. family income doubled from the 1980 to 2000 decennial censuses, and that the gaps between racial-ethnic groups also rose during this period. For example, the family income gap between blacks and whites rose by more than 50 percent over these two decades, and that between Latinos and whites almost doubled. Simultaneously, urban economic segregation grew, with particularly dramatic growth among African Americans and Latinos;...


    • Chapter 4 Can Gaps in the Quality of Early Environments and Noncognitive Skills Help Explain Persisting Black-White Achievement Gaps?
      (pp. 139-180)
      David Grissmer and Elizabeth Eiseman

      A large body of research in social science has been directed toward addressing the causes of and solutions to continuing inequality of outcomes between black and white Americans (for recent summaries, see Neckerman 2004; Jencks and Phillips 1998). Historically, this research has created an expectation that such gaps would close over generations in a competitive economy if educational and labor market opportunities were equalized. The research, however, has been unable to account for several key aspects of the empirical data—specifically, to explain why progress is so slow, why there can be periods of either rapid or no progress, and...

    • Chapter 5 Segregation and the Test Score Gap
      (pp. 181-211)
      Jacob L. Vigdor and Jens Ludwig

      Disparities in educational outcomes between African Americans and whites declined steadily for most of the twentieth century, but this progress has halted or even reversed in recent years (Neal 2006). Understanding why the black-white test score gap narrowed over time, and why this progress stalled during the 1990s, is critical if we are to design policies capable of further reducing inequality in schooling outcomes in the United States. Given the widely documented association between educational outcomes and earnings, health and crime, successful efforts to further reduce the gap would undoubtedly have far-reaching consequences for society as a whole.

      This chapter...

    • Chapter 6 The Role of Inequality in Teacher Quality
      (pp. 212-249)
      Sean P. Corcoran and William N. Evans

      In January 2002, the federal government enacted No Child Left Behind (NCLB), an aggressive effort to hold schools and state education agencies accountable for “clos[ing] the achievement gap between high- and low-performing children, especially the achievement gap between minority and non-minority students.”¹ After decades of progress, the achievement gap between African American and white children in reading and mathematics had begun to stagnate—or in many cases widen—and lawmakers viewed this legislation as a critical response to growing inequalities in basic skills (for a comprehensive overview, see the introduction).

      One principal component of NCLB is the requirement that all...

    • Chapter 7 Culture and Stalled Progress in Narrowing the Black-White Test Score Gap
      (pp. 250-286)
      Meredith Phillips

      Between 1971 and the late 1980s, the black-white test score gap narrowed considerably in both reading and math. That progress had subsided by 1990, though it may now have resumed. Many scholars have explored why the gap narrowed—concluding that improvements in African American’s socioeconomic circumstances contributed to the narrowing, and that African American students’ increased access to challenging course work, smaller classes, and desegregated educational environments probably did as well (see Berends et al. 2005; Cook and Evans 2000; Ferguson 2001; Grissmer et al. 1994; Grissmer, Flanagan, and Williamson 1998). We know far less about why progress stagnated in...


    • Chapter 8 School Policies and the Test Score Gap
      (pp. 289-319)
      Helen F. Ladd

      On average, black students in the United States achieve at lower levels than white students do. Recent evidence from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) indicates, for example, that in 2004 the gap between thirteen-year-old black and white students was about 0.6 standard deviation in reading and about 0.8 in math. To be sure, such gaps were far larger in the 1970s, when they exceeded a full standard deviation in both subjects. The gaps fell dramatically during the 1970s and 1980s, increased during the early 1990s, and then fell again between 1999 and 2004. These ups and downs notwithstanding,...

    • Chapter 9 What We’ve Learned About Stalled Progress in Closing the Black-White Achievement Gap
      (pp. 320-344)
      Ronald F. Ferguson

      Overcoming academic, social, and economic disparities between blacks and whites in the United States is an aspiration that dates back to when teaching a black person to read was against the law—an act of civil disobedience. Even then, before the emancipation, some people dared challenge the idea that race should determine a person’s destiny. There have been many successes in living out this aspiration. American blacks have performed outstandingly at all levels of society and in all walks of life. At the same time, blacks as a group remain overrepresented among the poor and the incarcerated. As a group,...

  8. Index
    (pp. 345-360)