The Academic Achievement Gap: Facts & Figures | Teachers College Columbia University

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The Academic Achievement Gap: Facts & Figures

The educational achievement gap in the United States exists in and out of the classroom, and extends from the earliest years of childhood across the lifespan. The wealth of information documenting the gap is vast, see some of the more telling statistics.

The educational achievement gap in the United States exists in and out of the classroom, and extends from the earliest years  of childhood across the lifespan. The wealth of information documenting the gap is vast, but the following are some of the more telling statistics:

  • By age three, children of professionals have vocabularies that are nearly 50 percent greater than those of working class children, and twice as large as those of children whose families are on welfare.    
  • By the end of fourth grade, African American, Latino, and poor students of all races are two years behind behind their wealthier, predominantly white peers in reading and math. By eighth grade, they have slipped three years behind, and by twelfth grade, four years behind.
  • Only one in 50 Hispanic and black 17-year-olds can read and gain information from specialized text (such as the science section of a newspaper) compared to about one in 12 white students
  • By the end of high school, black and Hispanic students' reading and mathematics skills are roughly the same as those of white students in the eighth grade
  • African American students are three times more likely than white students to be placed in special education programs, and are half as likely to be in gifted programs in elementary and secondary schools.   
  • Among 18- to 24-year olds, about 90 percent of whites have either completed high school or earned a GED.  Among blacks, the rate is 81 percent; among Hispanics, 63 percent. However, a much larger share of blacks earn GEDs than whites, and only about 50 percent of  black students earn regular diplomas, compared with about 75 percent of whites.
  • Black students are only about half as likely (and Hispanics about one-third as likely) as white students to earn a bachelor's degree by age 29.         
  • One in three African American males will be incarcerated in state or federal prison at some point during their lives, and the rate is significantly higher for black men who do not finish high school. For Hispanic males, the rate is one in six; for white males, one in 17
  • Homicide has been leading cause of death among African Americans aged 15 to 34 since 1978. The lifetime risk of violent death for young black males is one in 27, and for black females, one in 17. By contrast, one in 205 young white males and one in 496 young white females are murdered.

In addition, the following are some of the health-related disparities that contribute to - and reflect -- the educational achievement gap:

  • Vision:  A poor child's difficulty in learning to read is often caused by vision problems.   Poor children have severe vision impairment at twice the normal rate.  One cause is watching excessive television, which can retard development of hand-eye coordination and depth perception. Forty-two percent of black fourth graders watch six or more hours of television a day, compared to 13 percent of whites.   

    Fifty percent or more of minority and low-income children have vision problems that interfere with their academic work.     
  • Medical care:  Black pre-schoolers are one-third less likely than whites to get standard vaccinations - probably one reason why poor children lose 30 percent more days from school than non-poor children.   

    One in every four children in Harlem suffers from asthma, a rate six times as great as that for all children.     
  • Nutrition:   Poor children have higher rates of anemia and more frequently fall below national averages in height and weight due to inferior nutrition. 

    Low-income kindergartners whose height and weight are below normal for children their age tend to have lower test scores. Anemia affects cognitive ability; 8 percent of all children suffer from anemia, but 20 percent of black children do so.   
  • Lead exposure:    Low-income children have dangerously high blood levels at five times the rate of middle-class children. Lead dust exposure harms cognitive functioning.  High lead levels also contribute to hearing loss.     

Published Wednesday, Jun. 8, 2005


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