This article presents an overview of current trends in racial disparities in educational achievement and attainment. It shows that while gaps in attainment between racial groups are narrowing, whites and Asians continue to attain more education and to achieve greater educational successes than Blacks, Latino/as, and Native Americans. The consequences of the gap in terms of employment and income are presented, and current controversies about standardized testing and affirmative action are discussed in relation to educational achievement. Sociologists differ in their explanations of the racial achievement gap. Explanations including culture, class, and racial discrimination are outlined.
The disparities in educational persistence, degree attainment, and academic achievement that we observe between different racial and ethnic groups in the United States have their roots in the national historical context. Before the Civil War, most states made it illegal to educate slaves. Accordingly, few blacks living in the South could read or write. While schools were established during Reconstruction to provide basic literacy education, many sharecropping families could not spare a set of hands from the hard work of farming. The new schools serving black Southerners remained segregated and underfunded even as black children began attending them, and black teachers were not able to access teacher training or higher education. As blacks began to earn high school degrees, a segregated higher education sector developed, but it faced similar budget and training limitations. Secondary educational segregation remained legal until the Brown v. Board of Education decision by the Supreme Court in 1954. Today, schools in the North and in the South remain segregated to a significant degree, though this segregation is maintained by residential and income factors (de facto segregation) rather than by law (de jure segregation). Schools that predominately enroll black children tend to receive less funding because they are located in areas with lower tax revenues, and thus disparities in the educational environment continue.
These disparities begin at an early age. For instance, over 60 percent of white and Asian children participate in center-based preschool programs (publically funded programs aimed at children from low-income families), while less than half of Latino/a children do, and white children already score 26 points higher than black children on reading tests by age 9 (KewalRamini, Gilbertson, Fox, & Provasnik, 2007). Rather than declining as students spend more time in school, racial disparities grow. However, many measures of educational achievement do show a lessening of disparities over time.
Researchers who study educational achievement tend to focus on a few key indicators. First, they look at measures of persistence -- in other words, whether students stay in school or drop out. Second, they look at measures of attainment, or what degrees students earn. Finally, they look at measures of achievement, or how well students do while in school. Since all states in the United States maintain minimum drop-out ages to ensure that all or almost all students will finish at least middle school, researchers tend to consider persistence and attainment for students in high school, college, and beyond. Achievement is considered at all points in the educational system.
Latino/a students are the most likely to drop out of high school, though it is worth noting that some Latino/a drop-outs dropped out of schools in Latin America before migrating to the United States. In 2011, 14 percent of Latino/as between the ages of 16 and 24 had dropped out of high school, compared to 7 percent of blacks and 5 percent of whites. These statistics reflect a marked decline in the high school drop-out rate since 1990, when 32 percent of Latino/as, 13 percent of blacks, and 9 percent of whites between the ages of 16 and 24 had dropped out. (U.S. Department of Education, 2013).
When students graduate from high school, they reach another turning point: the chance to decide whether or not to enroll in college. The disparities between racial and ethnic groups continue when it comes to college enrollment. In 2011, the immediate college enrollment rate (defined as the percent of students receiving a high school diploma or GED and then enrolling in a two- or fouryear college the following year) was 69 percent for whites, 65 percent for blacks, and 63 percent for Latino/as. These disparities are smaller, however, than they were in 1995, when 65 percent of whites, 53 percent of blacks, and 52 percent of Latino/s enrolled immediately in college (U.S. Department of Education, 2013).
Racial and ethnic disparities grow as students move through postsecondary education. Table 1 shows what percentage of each type of secondary degree was earned by various racial and ethnic groups in the United States in 2010, and compares that statistic with each group's overall percentage of the total US population. The table shows that there is relatively little racial disparity at the associate's through master's degree levels, except among Latino/ as, who are significantly underrepresented beyond the associate's degree level. Blacks and Latino/as are both underrepresented at the doctoral level, and Asians are overrepresented by increasing degrees at each level in postsecondary education. Not shown on the chart are gender disparities within racial groups: women, especially black women and Latinas, earned more than half of all degrees conferred at every degree level in 2010. The disparity was smallest among whites earning doctorates, among whom 51.4 percent were women, and greatest among blacks earning master's degrees, among whom 71.1 percent were women (U.S. Department of Education, 2012a).
White Black Latino Asian American Indian Associate 66.3 13.7 13.5 5.3 1.2 Bachelor's 72.9 10.3 8.8 7.3 0.8 Master's 72.8 12.5 7.1 7.0 0.6 Doctoral 74.3 7.4 5.8 11.8 0.7 2010 Total Population 72.4 12.6 16.3 4.8 0.9
So far the numbers we have seen tell us only about how far students of different racial and ethnic groups advance in school, not how well they perform in it. While researchers like Steven J. Gould (1996), Claude M. Steele (1998), Christopher Jenks and Meredith Phillips (1998), and Claude Fischer (1996) have all written about the limits of using standardized tests to measure educational achievement, national data on such tests do allow us to get a picture of achievement disparities.
Researchers use a variety of standardized tests to study racial and ethnic disparities in achievement, but two of the most common are the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a multi-subject exam administered nationwide to students in different grades at school, and the Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT). On the math portion of the NAEP, in 2007 white 9-yearolds scored 23 points higher than black 9-year-olds, and white 13-year-olds scored 26 points better than black 13-year-olds. Disparities between whites and Latino/as are marginally smaller, and the size of the disparities between whites and blacks and Latino/as have declined since 1978. Similar patterns are seen in the results of the NAEP reading test. NAEP scores for Asians or Native Americans are not available (U.S. Department of Education, 2011).
On the 2008-2009 SAT (which...
According to the ethnicity department for education, there are major differences in levels of educational achievement between pupils of different ethnic minorities (EM) groups, the 2014 statistics say that Chinese and Indian children achieve the highest out of the rest of the EM groups.
There are both external and internal factors to explain ethnic differences in educational achievement.
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One external factor is, in terms of social class, those from a Black Caribbean, Pakistani and Bangladesh (B/C, P, B) background are more likely to be from low-income households, experiencing poverty and unemployment and as a consequence this material deprivation means that they will be unable to provide their children with the books, tuition and nutritious diet to do well at school. Whereas, in contrast, those from an Indian and Chinese (I, C) background are less likely to be eligible for free school meals as they families are more likely to be professional business middle-class.
Another factor is Language which has also been examined as an indicator for differences in ethnic minority achievement. For many EM students, English is a second language and their difficulties in communicating may be viewed as a lack of ability by teachers. However, both Driver and Ballard and also Modood found that Asian and white students had a similar level of language development by the age of 16 with it only being a temporary disadvantage for Indian pupils.
Furthermore family life is a factor, with Bhatti’s study of B, P and I parents showed how parents had a high level of interest in their children’s education which was supported by close family and community ties. However, as shown by Moon and Ivin’s telephone survey, B and P parents lack the cultural capital to be able to assist their children with their homework and may be less familiar with school processes and organisation. Whereas in contrast, I and C parents will be able to use their cultural, material and social capital to assist their children at home but also with negotiating the school system to their advantage.
There are also a number of internal factors for ethnic differences in educational achievement.
One internal factor is media, which plays a big role in demonising the black Caribbean EM into folk devils, Wright said that racism happens in school because of the media which gives negative labels to students and creates stereotypes, and however she also said that some teachers have stereotypes but choose not to bring it in to the class room. This contributes to racial stereotypes that teachers have of black pupils, supporting Gillborn and Youdell’s research that teachers have ‘racialised expectations’ of black pupils which contributes to a ‘cycle of conflict’ between teachers and students. As black pupils attract negative labels, they are more likely to be put in lower streams and sets and in terms of educational triage are seen as the students who either need help to achieve to cross over the C/D borderline or those with ‘no hope’ of achieving which consequently contributes to a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.
This negative perception of black pupils and association with gang culture, was highlighted in the LDA report (2004) where one Black Caribbean (B/C) pupil commented that, ‘when it is white boys it is a group, but when it is black boys, it is a gang’ showing how the relationship between B/C students and white teachers is one based on ‘conflict and fear’. The labelling of students inevitably leads to different student responses, with those that conform most likely to be I and C students who are viewed as the ‘ideal pupils’ whilst Sewell and Hall have recognised how black students can create a ‘culture of resistance’ to school and rebel or retreat completely from the school culture and values.
With regards to teacher racism, the Swann Report found evidence of unintended racism with Bhatti’s study of Bangladeshi (B), Pakistani (P) and Indian (I) students showing how teachers ignored students, didn’t give them responsibility and often treated them unfairly by picking on them. So though Indian students are high achieving and seen as ‘ideal pupils’ they may still experience racism at school.
Another aspect of the school which has been highlighted is the ethnocentric curriculum. Despite attempts to provide a ‘multicultural education’ according to Troyna and Williams, there is evidence of ethnocentrism which means that Asian and blacks students feel frustrated and disillusioned with the school system. Examples of ethnocentrism include History and other textbooks carrying degrading images of non-white people, with black people often viewed as ‘evil’ and white people as ‘good’. Whilst others have commented on how uniform and dress requirements with arrangements for PE and games also potentially undermining the confidence of ethnic minority students for example, Muslim girls expected to wear skirts which goes against their cultural and religious expectations.
To conclude, despite these concerns about racism within schools, I and C still outperform every other group despite being taught the same curriculum and being subject to the same school rules etc. Also it has to be noted that not all school teachers are racist whilst not all students end up with a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. Additionally it must be noted that when looking at educational outcomes of students, ethnicity cannot be considered in isolation, social class and gender also need to be taken in account – with research showing that social class has 5 times the impact than any other factor on educational achievement.