Class and Schools - Using Social, Economic, and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap

By Hatheway, Stephanie | American Secondary Education, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

Class and Schools - Using Social, Economic, and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap


Hatheway, Stephanie, American Secondary Education


CLASS AND SCHOOLS - USING SOCIAL, ECONOMIC, AND EDUCATIONAL REFORM TO CLOSE THE BLACK-WHITE ACHIEVEMENT GAP RICHARD ROTHSTEIN ECONOMIC POLICY INSTITUTE, WASHINGTON, DC 2004 PAPERBACK: $18.98 * 1-932066-09-8

The theme of Class and Schools centers on closing the achievement gap between Black and White students. The author discusses various governmental reforms such as economic, social and medical changes, that must be implemented before the achievement gap will ever truly be bridged.

The organization of the book is set up to initially explain the achievement gap between Black and White students and how social class has a great impact on the difference in scores. The order of the chapters is logical. Defining the achievement gap, social class differences in raising children, and cultural differences between Black and White students are discussed. By the fifth chapter, the author begins illustrating what reforms need to take place to close the achievement gap. The clear organization of the chapters helped to give background information and facts. Each chapter is broken down into topics that are all linked by a single heading; this connected ideas seamlessly.

The preface is written by a renowned economist, which gives credibility to statements the author made in the book. The introduction gives useful background facts on the desegregation of public schools. The author uses bar graphs effectively to visually represent information. Especially practical is the endnotes section because everything is referenced and numbered. The amount of facts and history contained in the endnotes alone helps to clearly state the author's point of view. There is an Appendix titled "What employers say about graduates" that is insightful and magnifies the current problem of what is not being tested on standardized tests.

The book consists of five chapters. Chapter One highlights historical background of the achievement gap, misunderstandings about the concept, genetic factors, social class, health care, cultural and even housing differences that affect student performance. Rhetorical questions help to analyze whether cultural background or society explain discrepancies in academic achievement. The most startling facts from this chapter are statistics about the size of the vocabulary of the middle-class kindergartener being raised in a home with college educated parents, compared to the vocabulary of the Black kindergartener from the home of non-degreed parents. The middle-class child begins school with a vocabulary equivalent to that of the lower-class Black adult.

Chapter Two explains how some schools "beat the demographic odds" when it comes to student achievement gaps, and within the chapter examples of the schools are given. There is a particularly interesting discussion by Dr. William Sanders about what he refers to as the "Tennessee value-added assessment system." This system separates the influence of teachers on the achievement gap from the child's family background, health and academic potential. This is a new twist for public school educators because only some of the blame could be placed on teachers for low achievement, according to the method of Dr. Sanders. Even more interesting is that the results of Dr. Sander's study only work for teachers who teach math and not reading. It is important to note that literacy is a much more difficult concept to measure on any test. There is also mention that "no excuses" schools are not really what they seem to be. For example, in one school in New York City, children who were labeled "low income" actually lived with parents who were on graduate stipends from Harvard. The income level was low, but the familial education and literacy did not accurately reflect at-risk students.

Incorrectly holding schools accountable for closing the achievement gap is the main crux of Chapter Three.

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