WaPo editor blames reading gaps between groups on systemic racism

June 22, 2021 • 12:30 pm

Here we have an example of the Kendi-an principle that the existence of an inequity—disparities between proportions of groups in a population and their proportions in professions or in measures of performance—is prima facie evidence for systemic racism. (I take systemic racism to mean racism embedded, either formally or systematically, in an institution.) In this case of this Washington Post article, reading gaps between four groups of students: Asians/Pacific Islanders; White non-Hispanics; Hispanics, and African-Americans, is seen as evidence of systemic racism in the schools. But, as John McWhorter always emphasizes, there are alternative explanations.

Click on the screenshot to read:


Here are the data from the Education Department’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in reading (there are other results, but they’re not described):

The percentage of each group’s achievement levels was reported as advanced, proficient, basic and below basic, or very good, good, good enough and worrying. The national results in eighth-grade reading were: 4 percent at advanced, 29 percent at proficient, 39 percent at basic and 28 percent at below basic. One-third above average, nearly one-third below average.

. . .That is the outcome for the entire public school population. NAEP did not stop there. It then analyzed the data in a number of different ways, one of which was by race/ethnicity. Twelve percent of Asian/Pacific Islander students were at the advanced level, 42 percent were at proficient, 31 percent were at basic and 15 percent were at below basic; it’s something like a bell curve skewed a bit to the right.

Achievement outcomes for White non-Hispanic students (whom NAEP calls “White”) were something like a bell curve skewed to the left: 5 percent at advanced, 36 percent at proficient, 39 percent at basic and 19 percent below basic.

Outcomes for Hispanic students were heavily skewed to the left: 1 percent at advanced, 20 percent at proficient, 40 percent at basic and 38 percent at below basic.

Outcomes for Black students were even more heavily skewed to the left: 1 percent at advanced, 14 percent at proficient, 39 percent at basic and 47 percent — nearly half — at below basic.

. . . In 2019, our public schools taught 80 percent of White non-Hispanic students to read at least at the level expected for those middle school students, but they failed to teach nearly half of their Black students to read as well as eighth-graders might be expected to read.

Author Strauss says, correctly, that this is a disaster, because to function in many jobs, or simply to function well in life, you need to read at least at the “basic” level.  28% of the entire country being “below basic” is bad enough, but 38% of Hispanic students and 47% of black students testing below “basic” is a scandal. It signals that something has gone badly wrong, especially for minority students, and that something needs to be fixed. (Strauss also notes that, in general, female students in each group do better than males ones.)

Now these disparities aren’t new; they’ve been known, and pretty stable, for years. The question is how to fix them. To do that, you need to know a.) the causes of the disparities and b.) what to do to make students read better. (I’d say that “b” is the crucial factor, and I don’t know much about that.)

Strauss goes on to adduce data from Texas, which is marginally worse for all students as well as for ech group of students. (I suppose she singles out Texas because that’s where “Juneteenth” originated.)

The causes? Strauss rules out income because when she does a rough control for income, looking at the proportion of students in each group eligible for school lunch programs, meaning being pretty poor, the disparity remains. Income “matters” (she means it’s correlated with reading proficiency) for white non-Hispanic students, but not for black students. In fact, she sees the causation going this way:

Household income, then, does not appear to explain the gap in reading skills. Rather, I would posit, it is the reverse: A lack of basic reading skills and, in general, inferior educational opportunities, such as those for Black students in Texas, result in a gap in household income in successive generations.

Well, she can posit what she wants, but we don’t have the data either way. Further, she backtracks on her own hypothesis by adducing income as a factor in proficiency connected with incarceration:

Texas is far from alone in producing large racial gaps in NAEP reading scores. Similar, if slightly less dramatic, gaps can be seen in other states and nationally. This, and the related high incarceration rates for Black males, limits household income for Black Texans and other Black Americans, passing those limitations on to the next generation.

Unless I read her wrongly here, she’s connecting low income in black Americans (caused by higher incarceration rates) with a “limitation” that reduces reading skills. Yet she ruled out low income as a cause of reading inequity. But never mind; her point is to say that the disparity is due to systemic racism, which she simply declares without evidence:

How is this to be explained if, as former vice president Mike Pence tells us, there is no systemic racism in this country?

Or is systemic racism invisible to those who benefit from it, like water for fish? Kings do not protest monarchy. Aristocrats and millionaires rarely have protested class-based societies. Only after millennia did men begin to notice the oppression of women.

Admitting the systemic racism in American education is a necessary step toward ending it.

But if the systemic racism is “invisible”, how do we test for it? And what does she mean, exactly, by “systemic racism”. Clearly the status of African Americans as an oppressed minority must reflect the racism connected with slavery, and persisting for decades afterwards. As Brown v Board of Education declared, separate is not equal. And things are still largely separate, with de facto segregation of many schools due to segregation of neighborhoods. And, of course, only a fool would deny that racism is still with us, even if it’s not “systemic”.

But is the present gap in reading really due to systemic racism somehow built into the current educational system? Or could it be unequal facilities or teaching quality correlated with schools whose students largely belong to one group or another? That might not be systemic racism, but the present reflection of old racism. It’s still racism, but what’s important is to rectify the disparities.

Alternatively, and as John McWhorter maintains, achievement gaps between blacks and whites could reflect cultural differences: a devaluing of academic achievement, a dearth of two-parent families, a lowering of expectations for black students, and so on. Cultural differences are absolutely rejected by many—almost as a taboo—but McWhorter’s ideas (he is of course is black and has more credibility on such issues—could be part of the explanation. McWhorter’s been saying this for years. This piece from Wilson Quarterly in 2000, for example, “Explaining the black education gap”, sounds like he could have written it yesterday on his Substack site:

It is not pleasant to think that blacks are held down by black culture itself. But it is absolutely vital that we address antiintellectualism in black American culture honestly. To deny its pivotal significance is cultural self-sabotage.

We have arrived at a point where closing the black-white education gap will be possible only by allowing black students to spread their wings and compete freely with their peers of other races. More than 30 years of affirmative action have shown conclusively that programs that let black kids in through the back door will not solve the problem. Youngsters coming of age in a culture that does not value educational achievement are not helped by a system that only reduces the incentives to excel.

. . . . Our interest, then, must be in helping black students shed the shackles of anti-intellectualism. Any effort that prepares black students to compete is laudable: For example, secondary schools should urge black children to form study groups, which have been shown to improve minority students’ performance. Immersing black students in extended academic work sessions with fellow blacks counters the conception that school is “white.” Minority students should also be given standardized tests on a regular basis in all schools, even those with insufficient resources. This alone will raise students’ test scores.

Now, as I always say, I have no dog in this fight, and am hardly an expert on black culture. But I am a scientist, and I know that fobbing off the achievement gap as wholly due to present racism in American school systems (which could, indeed, be part of the explanation), and doing so without evidence, is not going to convince anybody who’s not already a committed ideologue.

And, most important, we need to spend less time finding people to indict and more time figuring out how to fix the situation. That will be a very tough one, but surely we can all agree that kids of all colors, family incomes, and backgrounds should have the same government-supplied resources and opportunities to learn.

h/t: Luana

49 thoughts on “WaPo editor blames reading gaps between groups on systemic racism

  1. I cannot speak personally to how much black culture has been an impediment to black success, but the wokes seem to be doing all they can to ensure that it will be an impediment going forward. Take, e.g., that Smithsonian “whiteness chart” that they posted in 2020 (and then took down, presumably after complaints from some non-woke patrons and donors). The whiteness chart listed the following as traits of “white culture”: hard work, rational thinking, self-reliance, and a cohesive nuclear family. It’s like they are channeling Bull Connor and the 1960s segregationists. With friends like that …

  2. I thought wanting to do well in school was a characteristic of White Supremacy…? Luckily with advanced math classes being cancelled everywhere, no one will be bothered by the difference between correlation and causation. Oh, well, soon everyone student will be reading at the same level…”Fun With Dick and Jane.”

  3. ‘And, most important, we need to spend less time finding people to indict and more time figuring out how to fix the situation.’

    But I strongly suspect that people like Strauss do not really want to fix the situation; what they want is precisely to find people to indict. She’s part of the woke witch-hunting culture, which like all other inquisitorial movements has as its raison d’être the identifcation of the evildoers amongst us, so that they may be exposed, publicly punished and serve as a warning to anyone else who might oppose the inquisition. Fixing the problem, or at least finding a genuinely constructive and practical strategy that gives promise of fixing it, would fatally derail this whole intimidation MO. Not only does this mean that Strauss & Co. will not be part of such a positive strategy, but that they’ll fight any such plan tooth and nail.

  4. We have personal experience with this.

    It is a cultural issue. Black students with involved parents who care about their kids’ educations and expect good school performance do as well as anyone else.

    Ones with parents who don’t participate (don’t communicate with the teacher or school, don’t come to conferences, don’t have their kids do homework, etc.) do poorly. Performing in school is “being white”, like that is somehow bad (per the current left orthodoxy; refer to the “Whiteness” list from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture*).

    The expectation is that schools parent the children (I can give a lot of details). (For example, see the movie Waiting for Superman.)

    (* What is the subtext of this list? It is: These aspects of “whiteness” are bad (how is that?!). And: People who do not practice these personal traits should be rewarded equally to those who do practice these traits.)

  5. Reading proficiency begins with verbal literacy. Does the family in which the child grows value words – Standard English Words? Are books ever-present in the home? Does the family read together?

    In the United States, books (and all other reading materials) are not authored in dialect. If your upbringing is sutured into poor speaking (from this POV) then reading standard English will be like learning a second language — or it might be disparaged for cultural reasons and shunned. That child will not learn to read.

    I contend this is in agreement with McWhorter’s position.

    The decision to (Progressivist/wokishly) construct that the dialect of the street is just as valid as that in print, and should never be corrected or disparaged — this is fatal.

    For one thing, decoding (systematic phonics instruction required) does not accommodate decoding; and you can not “READ” if you cannot decode.

    With the Whole Language movement, decoding has been disparaged. It is not taught in public schools. It is taught in Montessori and other private education environment.

    1. [no “edit] function … correction:

      For one thing, decoding (systematic phonics instruction required) does not accommodate dialect; and you can not “READ” if you cannot decode.

    2. This madness has been going on since Ebonics in the 1980s.

      I think the crux of this is cultural: I used to teach in Japan. If my kids messed up outside of school it was the TEACHER the cops called before the parents. And later…the parents backed me up, even though I’m a gaijin! A respect for learning and teachers is essential. A disrespect is fatal.

  6. I suspect that being read to regularly at home and then encouraged to read for yourself are important factors. That’s one way in which past disparities would propagate into the future. I fondly remember my Dad sitting in a big overstuffed armchair almost every night after dinner and reading for a half hour or so while my brother and I perched on the arms and an older brother lerked in the background pretending to be too sophisticated to be read to. I specifically remember all of the Pooh books and a large number of Oz books. One of the latter was the first book beyond the “Dick and Jane” level that I read cover to cover for myself.

    1. I made a conscious effort to read around the kid, when I’m watching him and when it’s appropriate. But, then again, I don’t have to work 2-3 jobs to make ends meet. If I did, then the TV-as-babysitter might be one of the only viable options. Particularly given that most of the public libraries (around us, at least) shut down during the pandemic.

      I absolutely agree that parenting which places a premium on learning has a lot to do with it. And I absolutely agree that with a good work ethic, a self-motivated kid can likely overcome most if not all of the impact a lack of reading/literacy “culture” in their own home or neighborhood might have on their education. But I really don’t think that’s the whole of the story; access really does matter. Parental wealth really does matter. School resources really do matter. Kids who lack these things really can fall behind through no fault of their own or their parents. Ignoring that strikes me as something of a “let them eat cake” position. The logic “Hey, my parents read to/with me, and supplied me with books, if your parents don’t read with you and supply you with books, that’s just a cultural issue” ignores the answer “Both my parents work 8am-8pm, don’t have money to buy $8.99 novels, I have to take care of my little siblings when I get home from school, and the libraries have been closed, you privileged git.”

      1. Why do you think school resources matter?
        Baltimore spends the third highest per student in America. (2017 figures)

        In 2019, 13 percent of fourth-graders were at or above proficient in reading, while 15 percent met standards in math.

  7. And what does she mean, exactly, by “systemic racism”.The whole woke-vs.-nonwoke arguments over whether the term applies and how it’s defined is, IMO, getting in the way of fixing social ills.

    I fully agree with your point that we need to spend more time fixing (and less time arguing over labels). I’d say – ‘Okay Ms. Strauss, for sake of argument I will grant you this is systemic racism. We recognize it exists – your first step is done. So tell me what step 2 of your plan to improve literacy rates is.’

    Because maybe, if it’s a good step 2, an action that most people would agree might indeed improve literacy, then all the folks who think this is sytemic racism and all the folks who think that label is mere virtue signaling will agree that your step 2 is worth doing, regardless. You tell me you’re going to put highly qualified English teachers in inner city schools and ensure schools actually have the supplies they need to teach kids (rather than asking parents for donations of pens etc. every year), I’ll totally support those measures, no matter what pigeonhole you put the literacy problem in.

    1. Woke catechism:

      1. BIPOC are chips, blown by the winds of the oppressor, completely lacking in agency.

      2. Everything that happens to BIPOC is caused by white people.

      (And my corollary: Try to come up with a more racist view of the world.)

  8. “Nothing is so damaging as ignorance. ‘I don’t know’ you say! What reason is there for you not knowing—you have not looked, you have not searched. STUDY to be approved of by the great creator. Be master of things.” -George Washington Carver

    Ignoring the, ahem, great creator aspect of the quote, one wonders why the great man, born in the waning days of the Civil War to enslaved parents and carrying the name of his owner, bothered to work hard and learn as much as he could despite his facing much greater obstacles than children of today, and became such a wise and respected man in his field of agricultural science and botany. One might suggest that he not only had a “desire to know” but he acted upon that great desire, put in the effort and toil, studied and learned. Perhaps the difference between success and failure is the difference between wanting to know and actually doing something about it.

    As an aside, if you find yourself near Diamond, Missouri, do visit the George Washington Carver National Monument located on the land where he was born and raised. It’s a wonderful site and where I found this quote on a stone marker along the trail through the park. There is also the Carver Prairie and Diamond Grove Prairie conservation area nearby.

  9. Some, perhaps many school systems are moving toward a very simple way to make disparities in reading and other academic skills disappear: stop measuring academic skills. [One might suggest, in the same vein, that eliminating thermometers is a simple way to deal with global warming.] In addition, the appearance of academic disparities may be reduced by abolishing advanced courses, and by diluting challenging content, e.g., by infusing Math instruction with Ethnic Studies clichés.

    1. Even better: turn a flaw, like the lack of academic skills, into a virtue. That way not only you won’t have to fix anything, you’ll actually be ahead of the game

  10. Attributing any performance gaps to culture is not allowed since it is “victim blaming”, and anyhow everything is always the fault of white people, no other conclusion allowed.

    But McWhorter is entirely right: the biggest cause of the performance gap is quite obviously peer-group culture.

    One kid has a peer group which sees schooling as alien, and laud rebelling against school. Trying to do well at school is “acting white”. Role models are sporting stars and rap artists (professions where only very few can succeed). Similar attitudes are reinforced at home. Then along come the Woke who tell them that they are right, that things like maths and objectivity and reason and academic achievement are “racist”, and that there’s no point in trying anyhow, since they’ll always be oppressed and “systemic racism” won’t let them succeed whatever. Instead they should just ask for “reparations”. After all, whites are the only ones with the capacity to change anything.

    Another kid (Asian American or Jewish) has a peer group who all try to work hard at school and see academic success as normal. They have role models and aspirations of being doctors, lawyers, and other professions with high entry standards and high salaries. All of these attitudes are reinforced at home. The whole ethos is that it’s their task to make what they can of their lives, even if there are hurdles along the way.

    And then we end up with performance gaps, and people get all puzzled as to why.

    1. Other cultural groups came to the US under even worse conditions than comparable African American groups: in 1910, for example, the average salary of an Italian immigrant was lower than an African American worker. Nevertheless in just a couple of generations those cultural groups managed to get out of that initial handicapped status and fully thrive. I wonder why …

      1. Are you for real? Came under worse conditions?

        Which bathroom would an Italian have used in 1910 through to the 1960s? “Whites” or “Colored?” Answer that and maybe you’ll begin to understand that it might have been easier for Italians to thrive.

          1. You’re grossly exaggerating when you claim that these other groups came to the US “under worse conditions than African Americans”? Seriously? If you think that Italians were worse off than blacks brought as slaves, with slaves forced to work for life, regarded as property, and of course not paid, then you are so far off the rationality scale that I’m not sure you belong on this site.

            Care to rethink what you said?

            1. I was referring to a particular period of US immigration, the one at the turn of the century, and applying my comparison to people living in that particular historical period. Sorry if that was not clear

        1. ‘Which bathroom would an Italian have used in 1910 through to the 1960s? “Whites” or “Colored?”’

          I agree. Segregation benefits whites and disadvantages black people. Cities with majority Black populations will inevitably have lower educational standards.

        1. Those poor people could never have dreamed that their descendants would one day be so numerous and rich that they would have a combined income greater than the GDP of any country in Africa.

  11. Let’s look at median household income by various white ancestry. (Median Household Income by detailed ancestry – 2019 American Community Survey)
    South African American $98,000
    Russian Americans $86,000.
    Swiss Americans $83,000
    German Americans $76,000
    French Americans $71,000

    Are French really discriminated against?

    BTW, Indian Americans have a median income of $135,000


    1. “American Indians” have a high net worth because of giant trust funds (reparations?) waiting for each young person to come of age. These have accrued to a large extent from profits from gaming on Indian lands.

      I live in an area of several tribe situations like this. The profits from gaming a gigantic, and the population in the tribes are tiny. That is why.

      If you want to call that “income,” fine. Its like looking at the high standard of living of Norwegians (North Sea oil). Or Saudis and Kuwaitis.

      The trust also receive money from leases to mine oil/gas/minerals on Indian lands. To fish from Indian protected waters.

      1. “Indian Americans” are Americans with a background in South Asia. The linked Wikipedia article includes median household incomes for various Native American groups which range from $28k (Apache) to $49k (Chickasaw).

  12. “Household income matters quite a bit for acquisition of reading skills for White non-Hispanic students — but hardly at all for Black students.”

    Test score gaps between well-to-do and poor students are found in every single country in the world that has been studied. The claim that this wouldn’t apply to black students in Texas is surprising and warrants further inspection. Fortunately, the relevant NAEP data are available at the Nation’s Report Card site where they can also be easily analyzed.

    Limiting the analysis to Texas public schools and the year 2019, I find that black 8th-grade students eligible for the National School Lunch Program averaged a reading score of 232 while those ineligible averaged 261. (The NAEP “proficiency” levels discussed in the article are created by imposing more or less arbitrary cut-offs onto this scale.) This is a gap of around 0.88 standard deviations which is a large difference and highly significant (p<0.0001). The claim in the WaPo article is therefore false—the effect of socioeconomic background is strong for black students. In fact, the effect for blacks is, at least nominally, stronger than for white students for whom the gap between eligible and ineligible students is 0.77 standard deviations.

    Perhaps Strauss meant that controlling for socioeconomic status narrows the black-white gap only modestly. That is true—the white averages for students eligible and ineligible for the lunch program are 257 and 281, respectively—but it is not true that parental background does not have a strong effect for blacks. The fact that the black-white test score gap cannot be statistically eliminated by controlling for socioeconomic differences is an old and well-known finding.

    In general, Strauss seems to think of students as clay that teachers can freely mould to their liking. Accordingly, if some groups or individuals fail to be "proficient" in reading, the fault is their teachers'. In reality, students come to schools with vastly different levels of preparedness to learn and there's little schools can do about it; family background is much more important for educational achievement and attainment than any differences between schools or teachers, regardless of race.

  13. Perhaps we could ensure that majority Black schools in major cities like New York, Chicago, Baltimore, Philadelphia get more money per student than the national average.

    Has that been tried?

  14. Asian-Pacific Islanders (that’s a bizarre ethnic aggregation which probably conceals massive disparities) – 12% advanced reading scores; White-non-Hispanic – 5% advanced reading scores. Clear evidence then, that whites are oppressed by Asians and Pacific Islanders. It all started when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour and forced Americans to buy Toyotas and Datsuns.

  15. I suppose we must accept that students of Asian heritage do as well as they do because of their long history of oppressing Whites in the US.

    On a more serious note, just labeling the cause as oppression is not a solution. It probably keeps us from finding actual reasons and solutions. I think most White parents are willing to accept that the Asian kids tend to do better for a couple of reasons. A small part of it could very well be genetic aptitude. A larger part of it seems to be that on average, Asian kids show up with with a good work ethic and a strong desire to do well. They are also more likely than any other ethnic group to come from a two-parent household.

    Any problem like this which is caused purely by cultural practices, like oppression, should be easy to solve. We can look at the places where Black kids, on average, perform at the highest academic levels compared to the other groups, and learn from what those cultures do right.
    Analysis of systems where the listed hierarchies exist in average in different orders, or even ones where the best performing groups are inverse from what we have here would go a long way to show skeptical individuals that it is a cultural problem which we can fix.

    All that sort of works on the assumption that the hard progressives actually want the Black kids to thrive. I don’t think we can make such an assumption. People of any race who are successful, happy, and independent make poor candidates from which to recruit revolutionaries. Unless you can convince them to believe that they are oppressed.

    1. “A small part of it could very well be genetic aptitude.”

      Unlikely, as the “Asian advantage” seems to be strongest among the kids of first generation immigrants. The next generation starts to blend into the mediocrity of the rest of the population.

      “We can look at the places where Black kids, on average, perform at the highest academic levels compared to the other groups, and learn from what those cultures do right.”

      It appears to come down to simple hard work and sacrifice. Studying longer and harder in challenging subjects. This is not what people want to hear, especially the intellectual lightweights that tend to dominate education policy-making. Many of those people have a hard time respecting say, the work of the legendary Jaime Escalante when he taught calculus to low-income Latinos in the 70s and 80s at Garfield High in East LA. At one point, his high school was responsible for a quarter of ALL hispanic students in the country that passed the AP calculus exam. Simply phenomenal, but by god did those kids work hard…

      He was eventually run out of town by so-called teachers who could barely do calculus themselves.

      1. Heartbreaking, Escalante’s story, and a depressing reminder of the overwhelming power of mass mediocrity and its resentment of excellence. See https://thebestschools.org/magazine/jaime-escalante-21st-century-still-standing-delivering/ for a very good overview of why Escalante was successful and how what the author, quoting one of his sources, calls ‘the racism of low expectations’ wound up defeating one one of the most gifted teachers ever to grace this planet.

      2. I have to agree that the largest part of success comes down to hard work and deferred gratification. I had that preached at me my whole life, as both my parents were born into almost unbelievable poverty, and escaped it spectacularly.
        I do think that hard work is often misinterpreted. My Dad always says “smart work”, because it is not just about effort expended.
        Additionally, I have always been a strong believer that pretty much anyone can take themselves wherever they want, within reasonable possibility. Some people just have to work a lot harder to get there. I play passable guitar. I know people who have learned to play better than I do in every way, and have put much less effort in to get there. I grew up in a home full of music, had childhood lessons, and love music the way I love books. I just have no natural talent for playing music. Like anyone can, I make up for what I lack in talent with persistence.

        I have no doubt that any skill that can be accurately quantified, when you measure it in large quantities of people, patterns will emerge. The Asian thing might have to do with innate abilities for memorization or the understanding complex spacial relationships, or maybe it comes from a totally different direction, and be related to something like impulse control. Even if it is a tiny, tiny average advantage, patterns would tend to show up in large sets and in the long term. The same goes for activities where a select few are able to perform at the top levels.
        Of course much of this is my own conjecture. Especially the Asian thing. If you are correct that later generations tend to slack off, that does not necessarily exclude innate ability. The people who are more musically talented than I am are only going to play better than I if they pick up an instrument and practice.
        A good teacher, like Escalante, is going to help a lot more kids by inspiring them to strive for excellence than will a teacher that tells their students that their failures are because of others who want to oppress them for some reason, and will never let them succeed.

      3. Immigrants are often more highly motivated I believe (and I am one) because if we mess up everybody back in our village or hamlet back home in the motherland is gonna know it and then we’re screwed. “He went all the way to AMERICA and screwed it up” are words we just don’t want to hear. My teaching years in Japan gave me the impression education is better treasured over there (perhaps too much even).

        Also. Despite what Fox says, according to the Economist immigrant rates of crime are 40% lower than locals. That drops to 20% in the 2nd generation.
        I have no kids: I’m cool. 😉

        D.A., J.D.
        (originally Australian)

  16. RE JAC writing:
    “Now these disparities aren’t new; they’ve been known, and pretty stable, for years. The question is how to fix them. To do that, you need to know a.) the causes of the disparities and b.) what to do to make students read better. (I’d say that “b” is the crucial factor, and I don’t know much about that.)”

    Petra E. Todd & Kenneth I. Wolpin, 2007. “The Production of Cognitive Achievement in Children: Home, School, and Racial Test Score Gaps,” Journal of Human Capital, University of Chicago Press, vol. 1(1), pages 91-136


    ungated June 2006 version: https://head.buffalo.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/40/2015/06/todd.pdf

    Petra Todd (Ph.D. 1996, Economics, University of Chicago) is Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Term Professor of Economics, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia


    Kenneth I. Wolpin is Distinguished Research Professor and Lay Family Professor of Economics at Rice University


  17. One of the reasons I think this sort of argument persists is that racism still persists in our society. I remember seeing such arguments linking systemic sexism to sexual assault on similar grounds. The issue, as far as I can tell, is teasing causality is really difficult, so the isms in this case are being over-extended to do casual work. Treat the problem at the solution goes away.

    One way I think it could be tested for a casual hypothesis is to show statistically that differences in states with differing levels of racism, remediations against racism, and differing demographics, could show patterns that indicate that racism itself is at the heart of the issue. After all, changes in attitude to race have occurred in the last 50-100 years, with various places doing more than others, so the link could in theory be established. Similarly this could be done for Asian students and Jewish students will have at times also experienced racism and exclusion.

    It might be that there is some link between racism and scores, or it might be that there are proxies where racism exacerbates issues (like having a parent in prison might cause greater issues when combined with racism). In any case, it should be a testable hypothesis, and really deserves to be one given the role of racism in our society.

  18. There is a commentary on Spiked about how a report in England has shown that ‘white’ working class children do worse in school than ‘non-white’ working class children.

    What is interesting is that the culture ascribed to the ‘white’ working class is eerily similar to the one that’s been mentioned by other posters as being ‘black’ culture in America.

    School is something to be endured, and as the Daily Mail once put it, the highest achievement is to go on disability benefits…

    Here is Spiked’s commentary


    Here is the BBC article they were working off.


    1. This might be slightly unrelated, but I do wonder how much the narratives on race are predominantly as seen through American eyes, thus minimising some of the negative problems associated with class in England or caste in India / subcontinent. Not to say that racism doesn’t happen in those places or okay a role, but that there are other issues of discrimination structurally built into culture that are being downplayed or ignored by seeing the issue in a largely American way.

  19. “The word gap: The early years make the difference

    Children’s vocabulary skills are linked to their economic backgrounds. By 3 years of age, there is a 30 million word gap between children from the wealthiest and poorest families. A recent study shows that the vocabulary gap is evident in toddlers. By 18 months, children in different socio-economic groups display dramatic differences in their vocabularies. By 2 years, the disparity in vocabulary development has grown significantly (Fernald, Marchman, & Weisleder 2013).”


  20. As a school psychologist, I can tell you that we can normalize most reading problems that are rampant among all races, but most schools are failing to do so. (“Normalize” = bring below average reading scores into the average range). (Read the work of Dr. David A. Kilpatrick for more information). Reason: most schools aren’t even implementing best practices from “The National Reading Panel” of 20 years ago, much less more recent evidence-based best practices. As for the achievement gap, I have great respect for the work of Dr. Julie Washington (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/04/the-code-switcher/554099/ ). The most promising intervention to date for reducing the achievement Gap: Toggle Talk (https://learningtotalk.umd.edu/toggletalk/ )

  21. Decades ago I agreed to read to 1st & 2nd graders who needed extra help in my daughter’s school. They seemed to love it. Many years later I spent a year as school secretary in an extremely poor local school district (I think over 98% qualified for free lunch). I have a couple ideas based only on my own experience.

    Donate used books to problem school districts so that these can be given to students who might not otherwise get to own any. Maybe a local grocery store could be a collection point.

    I think reading to kids is one way of giving them much needed attention. It’s also a great way to settle them down before bedtime. So, encourage parents to try something that worked well for me: “Get ready for bed and I’ll come read you a story.” But this probably works better if the parent is a good reader, which leads to my final idea.

    I’d love to see some sort of TV show/YouTube channel that was essentially just reading kids’ books. It would show the page or spread along with the reader’s voice. For the easiest books it could even highlight words as they were being read.

    Problems/Considerations: Copyright – maybe crowd-funding could help. Production – get older kids involved (class projects or after-school activities). Book Selection – I think it’s important, especially at the younger stages, that books should just be fun. Older kids can delve into specific interest areas, but all a new reader needs is to enjoy the story. Sex (I guess) – I’m a single female parent of a daughter. Once, at a family gathering, I watched another mom load in a video when her young sons were over-stimulated. They sat entranced watching a big tractor just lug heavy farm equipment through a field, row after row. I really don’t understand that (seemed more boring than golf to me).

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