Mind the Gap

The Washington Post‘s front page this morning reports on the 300-point SAT score achievement gap between white and black students at the most prestigious high schools in the DC metro area. Daniel de Vise reports:

The racial achievement gap at affluent schools goes mostly unnoticed by parents, who seldom look beyond the high overall SAT averages. But it vexes black parents, who make the same sacrifices as their neighbors to buy homes in high-performing school districts and have the same aspirations for their children.

It’s important to note that this assumption flips the other way as well: When affluent white parents assess their local public schools, they often look at average SAT scores or acceptance rates at elite colleges without disaggregating for race and class, therefore assuming that their child — despite having all the benefits of birth — may not be successful at a given school. The result is too many privileged families choosing private schools and removing the accountability check engaged parents bring to a public school.

Let’s take the high school I graduated from as an example, Ossining High School in New York. Only 53 percent of the students at OHS were white in 2006. Of the white kids, 89.2 percent of them met standards in English Language Arts, while only 47.4 percent of black students did. Among the "economically disadvantaged," only 49.3 percent met the English standards. The overall rate of 71.1 percent achievement in English at OHS is deceptive. Similarly, statistics showing that most OHS students who head to college choose a community college or state school ignores the handful of upper middle class kids each year who end up at Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Brown, and a bevy of elite small liberal arts schools, not to mention the dozens of AP classes offered. Among its neighboring towns, Ossining High School had probably the weakest reputation for academic excellence.

Of course, it’s not enough to seek achievement for students similar to your child, but not others. Taking square aim at the racial and class-based achievement gap is the most pressing concern in education reform today. But when privileged families send their kids to public school, they help the cause forward by investing their expectations of excellence in the system.

cross-posted at TAPPED

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