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Teachers College Researcher Quantifies Black-White Education Gap at Nearly 20 Percentile Points

In lecture on March 6th, Richard Rothstein presents new data showing black youth trailing on eight broad outcome measures.

In lecture on March 6th, Richard Rothstein presents new data showing black youth trailing on eight broad outcome measures

New indicator system is first in effort to develop a national educational equity report card
The newspapers are full of debate over America's "education gap" -- the divide that separates wealthier, predominantly white students from those who are poorer and of color. But just how big is that gap -- and how should it be quantified?

Now, using a new set of criteria that encompasses eight broad goals of schools and other institutions of youth development, Teachers College researcher Richard Rothstein has estimated that the "educational equity gap" between black and white youth stands at just under 20 percentile points in a national distribution.

More specifically, in a distribution of all youth nationwide, the "average" white 17 year-old ranks at the 56th percentile in combined performance on each of eight broad outcome areas, while the average black 17 year-old ranks at the 38th percentile.

The eight broad outcome areas are: basic academic skills; critical thinking skills; social skills and work ethic; citizenship and civic participation; physical health; emotional health; appreciation of the arts and literature; and preparation of non-college bound youth for skilled work.

Rothstein will present these findings at Teachers College on Monday night in the second of a three-part lecture series known as the Tisch Lectures. The event will take place at 7 p.m. in Milbank Chapel on the Teachers College campus at 525 West 120th Street, between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue.

Rothstein -- a fellow of the Economic Policy Institute and author of the influential book Class and Schools -- is in the midst of developing a new "report card" that will track America's progress, at both the federal and state levels, in achieving equity for all youth. In the first Tisch Lecture, held in January, he showed how, by focusing predominantly on reading and math, America's current education goals -- as defined under the federal No Child Left Behind Act -- are at odds with the much broader aims historically espoused by the nation's schools and still supported by the general public, and by those elected officials who are charges with establishing education's goals.

"Holding schools accountable only for math and reading is an extreme position," he said. "NCLB is an historical anomaly."

At this Monday's talk, Rothstein, together with Teachers College graduate student Tamara Wilder, will summarize existing data on the black-white divide in each of the eight goal areas he has identified. Where possible, they will use data that measure the performance of young people at the age of 17, when they are at the age to leave secondary school. However, because those data do not always exist, Rothstein and Wilder will supplement them with some descriptions of "mileposts" -- indicators of how students perform at earlier ages. They also will report on policies and resources in each of these areas that scholars believe are most likely to improve outcomes.

In his final lecture on April 24, Rothstein will describe equity-related data at the state level and discuss their limitations. He will then present a proposal for gathering additional information that will be necessary to construct a truly meaningful equity report card that can make state-to-state comparisons.

Published Friday, Mar. 10, 2006