Raw Data: Here’s How Black Kids Are Really Doing in School


Bob Somerby is pretty ticked off at the way our “journalistic elites” cover black kids. In particular, he’s ticked off at liberals who seem to care only about black kids getting shot, and conservatives who care only about promoting scare stories that make our public schools look as horrible as possible:

You will never see those people ask how black kids are doing in school. The reason for that seems abundantly clear:

None of those people care!

Just for the record, this is what score gains in math look like over the past twenty years. You’ll see these data nowhere else.

Twenty years?!? How about 40 years? I’ve got that for you right here, courtesy of the NAEP long-term assessment, which has used a similar test for over four decades precisely so that it’s possible to make reasonable long-term comparisons. On the math test, black kids have improved their performance significantly: by 36 points at age nine, 36 points at age thirteen and 18 points at age seventeen. If we use the usual rule of thumb that ten points equals one grade level, that looks pretty good. And the gap between white scores and black scores has shrunk as well.

So maybe our schools are doing pretty well, after all? Maybe so. But at the risk of being a wet blanket, I’ll point out one thing that makes all these score gains a little less uplifting: Since 1990, 17-year-old black kids have made no gains in math at all—and the story is the same in reading. Over the past 25 years, younger black kids have improved by one or two grade levels, but those gains are completely washed out by age 17. There may be good explanations for this. School reforms haven’t hit high schools yet. A lower dropout rate means there are more mediocre kids still in school at age 17. Maybe, maybe, maybe. But one way or another, nothing matters unless our kids are doing better by the time they finish school. Until we figure out how to keep high school from being the black pit that it apparently is, none of the score gains in lower grades really matter much.

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