E D U C A T I O NA N DR A C E
The performance of minority students in affluent areas refutes the prevailing educational shibboleths.
DESEGREGATION is at a crossroads. As many analysts are declaring the integration experiment a failure, Harvard's desegregation guru, Gary Orfield, keeps telling us that minority education could be fixed if only we desegregated more. Educators and the media routinely slam city schools for poor minority performance while holding up affluent suburban districts as models because of their better test scores. Yet, if Orfield is right that segregated districts don't produce equal outcomes, no one has answered the more important question, which is whether ``integrated'' districts produce equal outcomes.
Oddly, while the courts have used inequality as the justification for busing, Orfield himself notes in his 1991 book The Closing Door that there isn't much direct evidence that busing creates more equality. Almost as a footnote, he concedes that you would have to examine data broken down by race within mixed districts to prove that busing actually resulted in better performance for minorities.
After some cursory research -- a few phone calls to local school districts, a ride on the Internet -- I tracked down reports that do chart test scores and grades against race, not only in the worst but also in the best districts. The reason that people like Gary Orfield don't have the numbers is that it's safer to uphold the myth that minorities will perform as well as their white peers in good suburban schools than to expose the reality that the racial gap exists even in the best suburbs.
Test scores and grades for blacks in integrated urban neighborhoods aren't any better than those in predominantly minority ghetto areas. Some affluent suburbs did no better than nearby urban areas, and even at the best suburban schools blacks on average lagged behind their white classmates. But a bigger secret is that even the poorest Asians tended to get better grades -- if not test scores -- than more affluent whites. Asians from poorer suburbs consistently outscored Euro-Americans in nearby more affluent suburbs. For all the talk about the superiority of schools in Japan or Korea, Asian-Americans are also nearly two years ahead in math, just as far ahead of their classmates as students in their ancestral lands are, even when they go to the same schools that fail other American minorities.
In short, predominantly minority schools have low test scores because minorities have lower test scores regardless of the segregation factor, not the other way around. And American schools would match Asian schools if they were dominated by Asian students. Perhaps that chilling reality is the reason that every newspaper I have contacted has chosen to ignore these data.
California's 1994 CLAS (California Learning Assessment System) test introduced massive multiculturalism and had several questions for which more than one answer was counted as correct. Yet nobody noticed that elementary-school blacks and Hispanics did just as poorly in predominantly minority areas of Oakland, East Palo Alto, and Alum Rock as in legally integrated San Francisco. At Grade 10, only 10 to 15 per cent of black students got 3 or better in math whether they went to integrated San Francisco, the segregated communities of Contra Costa County, Oakland, or Silicon Valley's Santa Clara County. Asians continue to stampede into Cupertino, home of the founders of Apple Computers, because of its excellent schools. But US News (April 21, 1997) highlighted the poor performance of blacks there, and they lagged the state average on the CLAS.
Meanwhile, the Asians of the Chinatown ghettos in San Francisco scored as well as children of affluent engineers in Santa Clara County. Asians in Santa Clara County scored as well as whites in posh San Ramon Valley or Cupertino. Asians in Cupertino scored as well as whites in Palo Alto, the best district in the Bay Area. Blacks in San Ramon Valley scored no better than state average for all races, while Asians there outscored every other race and community.
The Seattle Times annually slams Seattle's math scores (just the 50th-percentile for Washington as a whole) compared to suburban Bellevue's 67th-percentile performance, and highlights the race gap as an urban problem. But broken down by race, whites score at about 67 in either city, but blacks score worse in Bellevue, at 34 compared to 40 for Seattle. Seattle has an ``African-American Academy,'' but its test scores are virtually indistinguishable from the city average. Suburban inequality is much the same at nearby Issaquah (41) and Redmond (35), even though there are no minority ghettos in the suburbs, and there has never been any news coverage of racial differences in performance there.
Seattle is one of the few cities where Asians are so poor and white parents so highly educated that white students score better even in math. But Asians still have the highest grade-point average in the city. In the suburbs, Asian 8th-graders score 74 in 59th-percentile blue-collar Renton, hopping rungs over whites in 67th-percentile Bellevue. Asians in Bellevue score 82, equal to top-ranked Mercer Island's 83. Asians in Mercer Island score an astounding 90, not far below the average at the best Lakeside private school.
Meanwhile, nobody ever asks in print why fourth-graders in nearly all-white (but poor) Edmonds or Mukilteo scored only 34 to 44, as badly as Seattle's blacks. Nobody ever demanded that they be bused into richer school districts to remedy this inequity.
The Boston Globe also offered no explanation why black students who entered the Metco voluntary busing program from Boston with 50th-percentile scores didn't score as well as their new suburban classmates in 88th-percentile Newton. Yet the whites from working-class Revere or Brockton have an SAT average of 411 -- near the national black average. No Italian-American Revere youth dripping with gold chains and roaring upon his '82 firebird could expect that sending him to Newton for four years would turn him into Ivy League material. Yet the Harvard gurus remain mystified.
Fairfax County near Washington, D.C., has a 569 (1996) SAT math average, good enough for the University of California at Riverside. But Fairfax's black average of 465 isn't any better than ``Can't we just get along'' Los Angeles. The black suburb of Prince George's County is among the top 30 per cent of U.S. counties in average household income. The school district proudly claims that its black students perform as well as their ``counterparts'' throughout the state -- but that's only their black counterparts. Measured by Maryland's MSPAP (Maryland School Performance Assessment Program) test, it ranks as 22 of 24 districts in the state.
It is widely accepted that test scores increase with family income. However, SAT breakdowns for 1995 show that even the most affluent blacks, from families with incomes over $70,000, have average scores of 426, lagging behind whites or Asians from families with incomes under $10,000. But Asians from families with incomes under $10,000 have average scores of 482, ranking them with whites from families making $40,000. And it is not just test scores. Oakland's poor school system highlighted its low 1.8 black GPA to justify Ebonics. But GPAs aren't any better in integrated Seattle or San Francisco.
Data books and health surveys all show that even in cities like Seattle, Boston, and San Francisco where the per-capita incomes of Asians are no higher than that of blacks, it is Asians, not whites, who have the best outcomes. The omission of Asians from the local news stories is probably deliberate because their statistics don't support the thesis that racism and poverty are the reasons for poor outcomes. As much as the activists continue to deplore the model-minority ``myth,'' except in the most distressed Asian refugee communities, Asians generally have the best grades and test scores; the lowest rates of special and remedial education, dropouts, and expulsion; the highest rates of attendance; and the lowest rates of arrest, teen pregnancy, AIDS, and substance abuse.
If civil rights can be measured by affirmative action, multiculturalism, and desegregation, then they have massively succeeded in almost every urban school district in the country. Compared with Asians, blacks in California are at or near parity among teacher hires, college faculty, staff, and principals, and they are twice as well represented among superintendents. American history books now look like African-American history books, even casting revolutionary sailors as blacks, while Asians are all but completely absent from indexes. Yet these nifty educational strategies have utterly failed to raise black grades and test scores.
Last year, with little fanfare, Lawrence Steinberg, B. Bradford Brown, and Sanford Dornbusch released a new book, Beyond the Classroom that offered a very different explanation from the standard ``racism and poverty'' for why different groups perform differently in school. ``Of all the demographic factors we studied in relation to school performance, ethnicity is the most important . . . In terms of school achievement, it is more advantageous to be Asian than to be wealthy, to have non-divorced parents, or to have a mother who is able to stay at home full time.'' They found that no matter which school they looked at, Asians got the best grades and test scores, and blacks and Hispanics the worst. The problem was not the schools, but the attitudes and habits of the students themselves. The underachievers didn't fear failure, didn't study as hard, skipped class more often, and blamed their failures on racism. The overachievers didn't tolerate failure, hung out with overachievers, spent the most time studying, and attributed their success to individual effort.
IRONICALLY, it is an even darker secret that blacks and Hispanics can succeed solely on the basis of merit. Brian D. Ray, President of the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI) did a study that shows that minority home-schoolers are in the 80th- to 85th-percentile of home-schooling students.
There are formal schools where blacks and Hispanics do well, too. The December 2, 1995, Economist highlights the Barclay Elementary School in Baltimore. It adopted a severe prep-school curriculum and zero-tolerance approach toward spelling mistakes to get suburban-level 60th-percentile scores in a city where failure is the norm. Seattle's Zion private school boasts test scores above average with a largely black student body. The story of how Jaime Escalante fashioned a class of Advanced Placement calculus whiz kids out of a barrio school was made into a movie.
Whitney Young Magnet High in Chicago rivals many suburban schools. With a student body that is mostly black or Hispanic, it ranks above the 99th percentile among state high schools in 8th- and 10th-grade math and writing, and has ACT (American College Testing) averages that make it the equal of Asian-dominated Lowell in San Francisco. The best SAT scores in Georgia aren't in a rich white suburb, but at Davidson Fine Arts Magnet in Richmond with a 42 per cent black student body, near an Army Signal Corps base.
At the college level, Martin Vaern Bosangue of Mt. San Antonio Community College near Los Angeles found that black and Hispanic students who took a calculus workshop and studied more hours than whites and Asians who started with higher SAT math scores wound up getting better grades than even the Asians.
Economic and race-based interventions have never been shown to achieve the equality that was set as their justification in the first place. After all, the numbers that matter are not the percentage of blacks on the staff or in the classroom, but grade point average, reading and math test scores, and hours spent on homework and attendance. As Thomas Sowell and Lawrence Steinberg observe, if students of all races worked equally hard, their disparate rates of success and failure would plausibly lead to explanations based on, on the one hand, racism and poverty, or, on the other hand, innate superiority or inferiority. When they differ on every measure of effort, what else would you expect?
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