Wealth and the Education Achievement Gap

Barbara Diggs-Brown - Monday, October 24, 2011

Last summer, Courtland Milloy (Washington Post August 2 ) and Jullian Malveaux (USA Today August 5) wrote persuasively about the nation’s new “debt deal” and the widening of the wealth gap between white Americans and African-American and Latino Americans. The news is bleak but the future may be worse.

The news is: Blacks earn 63% of what whites earn. In 2009 the median wealth of white households was $113,149 while it was $78,066 for Asian Americans, $6,235 for Latino Americans and $5,677 for African Americans.

The future as far as we can see from the present: The academic achievement gap in America continues to threaten the national economy. We will soon be short of American graduates of any ethnic background who can run our businesses here and abroad. And even fewer will be people of difference.

The gap: In mathematics for 2009, scores for Latino and white fourth-graders remained unchanged and the gap persisted at 21 points. For eighth-graders, scores increased for both Hispanic and White students from 2007 to 2009, but the gap remained at 26 points. In Reading (for business this reads the ability to talk to and assist customers) a persistent 25-point gap in 2009 and for eighth-graders a 24-point gap in 2009.

For black students, the future is just as dismal: At grade 4, the 2009 national math gap was 26 points and at grade 8 it was 31 points. In Reading for 2007 grade 4 national gap of 27 points and at grade 8 the 2007 national gap of 26 points.

Where we work—Louisville, Kentucky, Cincinnati, Ohio, Stamford, Connecticut, Erie, Pennsylvania, New York City, and Atlanta, Georgia—the odds are even greater.

Complicate the gaps with this: We will soon have new more rigorous and globally comparable education standards in math and English language arts. With new academic standards (Common Core State Standards) coming into our schools by 2015, we must do something bold because while Johnny and Susie are not reading well now, their grades will drop in math and English language arts by 2015. We are raising the bar.

As the members of Congress get back to Washington to do something about unemployment—and we all know they must—we need American business to step up to ensuring the effective and sustainable implementation of the new state standards. And we need American business to help close the gap by providing pro bono assistance through assisting states and districts in developing teacher professional development, 21st century technology for data and assessment of students, and systems that help our school districts work.

Economic matters will only get worse for those who are already at the bottom unless the “haves” decide it is important to help empower the “have nots,” beginning with a quality education.

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