People talking about education often blame poor funding, or crummy unionized teachers, or low standards/expectations for low achievement among black and Hispanic students. That happens not to be the case. Some of the most interesting examples involve schools that are prosperous, liberal, and have mixed student bodies: the gaps still exist, even though the kids are exposed to the same teachers, same curriculum, same funding level, etc. Every now and then you see an article about these puzzling cases. The articles all sound much the same: the reporter and the school authorities are always mystified by the outcomes. And as far as I can tell, they stay mystified.
Once upon a time, I used to collect those articles. I suppose I was hoping for a new take on the situation, one in which the blame was pinned on Trotskyite wreckers or elf-shot, but they’re all pretty much the same.
The first one I ran into [in the Washington Post] was about Shaker Heights. The people running the school were mystified: “In four recent high school graduating classes, blacks made up just 7 percent of the students in the top fifth of their class, while they constituted 90 percent of those in the bottom fifth.”
Then came Cheltenham, Pennsylvania: “Experts have long puzzled over why the gap exists.” “Children of well-off, college-educated African Americans tend to do little better on standardized tests than the children of white high-school dropouts.”
I saw the same article about a school in Denver. Again in Nyack, New York. Evanston, Illinois. Stamford, Connecticut. Menlo Park, Ca. Princeton, New Jersey: “If the gap can’t be narrowed in Princeton, then where can it be narrowed?” Berkeley, CA: “”How could a high school do so well by one group of students and do so poorly for another?”
I am not the only person that noticed this often-repeated pattern. Eventually, many of these high schools [and some similar ones, like Amherst] got together and formed a consortium [MSAN, Minority Student Achievement Network] aimed at finding the mysterious cause. I wish them luck in their search for the real score-killer.