The New York Times features a new study of the intersection of race, family income, and test scores by Sean Reardon, Demetra Kalogrides, and Kenneth Shores.

 

It shows beyond doubt that family income and test scores are tightly correlated. A chart of educational attainment in school districts, arrayed by family income, shows that: “Sixth graders in the richest school districts are four grade levels ahead of children in the poorest districts.”

 

That is a huge test score gap.

 

We’ve long known of the persistent and troublesome academic gap between white students and their black and Hispanic peers in public schools.

 

We’ve long understood the primary reason, too: A higher proportion of black and Hispanic children come from poor families. A new analysis of reading and math test score data from across the country confirms just how much socioeconomic conditions matter.

 

Children in the school districts with the highest concentrations of poverty score an average of more than four grade levels below children in the richest districts.

 

Even more sobering, the analysis shows that the largest gaps between white children and their minority classmates emerge in some of the wealthiest communities, such as Berkeley, Calif.; Chapel Hill, N.C.; and Evanston, Ill. The study, by Sean F. Reardon, Demetra Kalogrides and Kenneth Shores of Stanford, also reveals large academic gaps in places like Atlanta and Menlo Park, Calif., which have high levels of segregation in the public schools….

 

 

Why racial achievement gaps were so pronounced in affluent school districts is a puzzling question raised by the data. Part of the answer might be that in such communities, students and parents from wealthier families are constantly competing for ever more academic success. As parents hire tutors, enroll their children in robotics classes and push them to solve obscure math theorems, those children keep pulling away from those who can’t afford the enrichment.

 

“Our high-end students who are coming in are scoring off the charts,” said Jeff Nash, executive director of community relations for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

 

The school system is near the flagship campus of the University of North Carolina, and 30 percent of students in the schools qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, below the national average.

 

The wealthier students tend to come from families where, “let’s face it, both the parents are Ph.D.s, and that kid, no matter what happens in the school, is pressured from kindergarten to succeed,” Mr. Nash said. “So even though our minority students are outscoring minority students in other districts near us, there is still a bigger gap here because of that.”

 

By contrast, the communities with narrow achievement gaps tend to be those in which there are very few black or Hispanic children, or places like Detroit or Buffalo, where all students are so poor that minorities and whites perform equally badly on standardized tests….

 

What emerges clearly in the data is the extent to which race and class are inextricably linked, and how that connection is exacerbated in school settings.

 

Not only are black and Hispanic children more likely to grow up in poor families, but middle-class black and Hispanic children are also much more likely than poor white children to live in neighborhoods and attend schools with high concentrations of poor students.

 

One school district stood out as a district that beat the odds: Union City, New Jersey.

 

David Kirp wrote a book about Union City, called Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools.  

 

What did they do in Union City? Time to read Kirp’s book and start implementing real education reform.

 

Or read an article by Kirp about what he discovered. No charter schools. No Teach for America. Steady work, careful planning, collaboration, no heroics.