It Isn’t Race

Tomorrow’s post, accidentally published today. Sorry for cluttering your in-boxes, subscribers…

The Brookings Institution recently published a very interesting study about the persistence of an achievement gap between white and minority students in the nation’s classrooms. The research looked at multi-racial student performance–a population that was rarely studied before increasing rates of intermarriage produced enough children to allow for reliable conclusions.

The study is explained more fully by the linked article, but here are the findings:

  1. Students of multi-racial identity are from families with lower socioeconomic status than whites;
  2. They attend schools that are far more integrated with whites and Asians compared to blacks, Hispanics, American Indians, and Pacific Islanders;
  3. Multi-racial students have the same average test scores as whites on math, science, and writing;
  4. For reading tests, multi-racial students outperform other groups, including Asians; and
  5. These results contradict the controversial hypothesis that between group differences in IQ result from genetic differences between races.

These findings suggest that the race gaps in academic achievement in the United States are the result of inequality, especially in terms of access to educational opportunities, and therefore could be closed under fairer political, social, and economic arrangements.

Reading this research took me back many years, to my undergraduate education classes and the work of a sociologist named William Coleman. In 1966, he published a paper titled Equality of Educational Opportunity (usually referred to as “The Coleman Report”). The study surveyed 600,000 children in 4,000 schools, and its conclusions were unexpected: family income and peer influence were more predictive of children’s school achievement than school funding levels.

Although Coleman discovered that expenditures were not closely related to achievement, the report found that a student’s achievement appears to be “strongly related to the educational backgrounds and aspirations of the other students in the school …. Children from a given family background, when put in schools of different social compositions, will achieve at quite different levels.” Writing in The Public Interest, Coleman was even more forceful: “The educational resources provided by a child’s fellow students are more important for his achievement than are the resources provided by the school board.” The Coleman Report concluded that “the social composition of the student body is more highly related to achievement, independent of the student’s own social background, than is any school factor.”

The conclusions of the Brookings study are consistent with Coleman’s emphasis on the importance of socio-economic integration. And therein lies the problem.

So  many of the issues we expect our public schools to solve are really broader social issues–social disparities that pose barriers to learning. Poverty is obviously the most significant of those barriers, but its effects are multiplied by residential patterns that separate middle and upper-middle class children from poor ones.

The research continues to show that gaps in achievement are not based upon race, but upon the environment within the classroom–an environment dramatically affected by the experiences, expectations and “aspirations” of the children who inhabit it.

The Atlantic recently reported that Coleman’s work was finally getting the attention it deserved.

James Coleman, who died in 1995, never saw the growth of socioeconomic-integration programs. But a half century after publication of his seminal report, school integration by social class is finally getting its proper due.

As the article noted,

Many of the districts pursuing socioeconomic integration are seeing impressive results. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, for example, a socioeconomic-integration program was adopted in 2001 and by 2014, 86 percent of low-income students graduated, compared to 65 percent of low-income students in Boston, whose schools are not socioeconomically integrated. Coleman would not have been surprised by the 21-point differential…. Moreover, socioeconomic integration often leads to racial integration, which has powerful benefits, such as reducing bigotry and forging social cohesion.

The research confirms that in education, it’s nurture, not nature.


  1. Amen! No amount of school choice, charter schools or whatever strategy we attempt to rearrange the chairs on the deck of the Titantic, it comes down to us. We have to learn to live together in mixed neighborhoods, if we expect to achieve academic growth across socioeconomic lines.

    During the 1970s when schools were the most integrated, the achievement gap across racial lines was the lowest.

    If I recall correctly, Coleman included Gary Community Schools, in his research?

  2. Brown v. Board, while a step forward, didn’t get it. Keeping up with peers via a decent social and economic environment gets it. We now have stratification of result due not to innate ability but rather to where one fits along the spectrum of rich v. poor and other arguments for ending wage inequality.

  3. Thank you for this. It echoes what research confirms about special ed. students as well. They do better in an environment of all general education students than in segregated environments of special ed. students only.

    Unfortunately, charter schools and school vouchers for private schools are re-segregating American students according to wealth, test scores, religion, disability, parental involvement, and most obviously by race. The other forms of segregation are not as visible but are powerful nevertheless and increasingly problemmatic.

  4. So, is it back to busing to really integrate our public schools? The school districts in Texas will need more money for that.

  5. Education is clearly the backbone of every country’s future. Without a continuous stream of well prepared next geration economic engines it doesn’t take long for the world to pass us by.

    And we have Betsy DeVos who has never worked in her life nor has ever had the need to. From her perspective the solution is simple. Educate the wealthy and they will lead the others out of the swamp.

    I suppose that was the thinking in the hall of Mirrors at Versailles too. We will take care of the “others” we are burdened with but tonight let’s dance.

    Of course that was backwards in terms of who really took care of whom. The people in the streets of Paris were doing all of the work of creating wealth which allowed the aristocracy to exist.

    And they were sick of it. Enter Dr Guillotine.

    There are not enough police and prisons to house all of the people creating the wealth being sucked up in Washington and across the land who are sick of carrying the load. And once in prison, like the oligarchy, production of wealth of wealth stops and consumption of it ensues putting a further load on the few at the oars doing all of the rowing.

    Today is a temporary condition and tomorrow could be better or worse. With nobody solving problems I see worse and worse and worse. At some point the workers will conclude that it’s not their fault but rather those who they support on reverse welfare.

    I would love to be confident in a smooth transition back to what built the country. Unfortunately I see no signs of those in Washington listening or even paying attention to anything but the music that they dance to.

    The world has been here before.

  6. Off subject – FOX, MSNBC and CNN have now removed any doubt at all what a sham they all are. I was channel surfing and discovered all three of these “News” Networks are broadcasting the OJ Parole Hearing Live.

    This story carried on FOX, MSNBC and CNN demonstrates beyond a reasonable doubt how truly empty these networks are!!! No wonder Americans in general have such a low opinion of the news media.

  7. Well Louie; it was a welcome break from Trump’s continuing nonsense. Such as telling Mueller NOT to investigate his family’s finances that have nothing to do with Russia. How will Mr. Mueller possibly know they are not connected to Russia if he doesn’t investigate the source of the finances? Also; Sessions should not have accepted the AG job if he was going to recuse himself from the Russia investigation; he had nothing to recuse himself from if he was NOT the AG.

    These people repeatedly insult our intelligence daily and, please note, they are all white…and rich. As was pointed out by some of the MSNBC news team, people watching the OJ parole hearing knew the outcome before it happened, most were watching the OJ who got away with murdering two people but did not get away with robbing some old friends to get his own belongings back. Almost an ironic O Henry story in this somewhere.

  8. If you want real news just turn on your radio.. noon to 3pm,? and you’ll find out what has been missing in the real world and receive answers to many of the questions that seem to mystify you.

  9. In paragraph 4, you mean James, not William. William is a former Secretary of Transportion, I believe. In any case, they are different people.


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