Legislators Only Take Action When White Students Fail, Academic Achievement Gap Study Says

Legislators are more likely to enact education reforms when white students, as opposed to black students, are failing, a recently released academic achievement gap study suggests.

The research, titled “The Political Foundations of the Black-White Education Achievement Gap,” found that state legislators rarely enact reforms when white students are achieving, even if black students are not; it is only when white students begin failing that legislative action is taken according to the Huffington Post.

“The achievement gap is defined as the persistent discrepancies in measures of school performance between black and white students, whereby white students attain more educational success.”

Baylor University professor Patrick Flavin, co-author of the study, told The Huffington Post:

“We looked at when policymakers decisions and whose needs they seem to be responding to and we found that when white students are doing poorly that’s when you see reforms enacted.”

The study suggests that these findings even hold true in states with significant numbers of African American Legislators and high amount of African American students.

“You might expect that in states that have more black students, government would be more attentive, but we didn’t find that,” Flavin said.

“Whether analyzed at the policy making level or the level of individual citizens’ political attitudes, white students receive far more attention and subsequent response compared to African-American students.”

“The Political Foundations of the Black-White Education Achievement Gap”

The Baylor University study was laid out as follows on the Media Communications Page:

For the research, racial disparities in student outcomes were measured using National Assessment of Education Progress scores as well as high school graduation rates.

While there was a period of dramatic improvement after the Brown v. Board decision up until early 1990s, the gap between the two racial groups has stagnated or even slightly increased since the early 1990s, according to the study.

To analyze state policy making, the researchers measured 12 state-level reform policies tracked by the National Council on Teacher Quality.

Those policies include such actions as paying teachers more for teaching in high-poverty schools (so-called “combat pay”) and tying teacher pay to student achievement.

To analyze citizens’ opinions on education, Flavin and Hartney used a variety of nationally representative public opinion polls and found that white citizens “only seem to be alarmed when white students’ performance drops,” Flavin said.

Academic Achievement Gap Study Findings

The study showed that whites are less likely to think an education gap exists or to see it as a priority compared to blacks.

Whites also are less likely to think that the government has a responsibility to close a gap, the researchers found.

“The study concludes by noting that the most recent and widespread efforts to address educational inequality have come not from state policymakers but rather from federal ones” according to the Baylor Media Communications page.

They continued on to say:

Those included the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, which required states to document and report student test score data by racial and ethnic subgroups; and more recently, the “Race to the Top,” a competitive grant program that makes willingness to decrease achievement gaps, particularly to increase minority students’ access to highly effective teachers, a key factor for states to be awarded federal money.

The Huffington Post stated legislators will only overcome this bind when they “sense an acute demand among a significant majority of the public for a departure from the status quo,” the study hypothesizes.

What are your opinions on the academic achievement gap study run by Baylor University?

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