Black Students in N.J. Proficient in 8th Grade Math: 14%

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There’s lots of buzz about the new education report put out this week by McKinsey & Company which attempts to quantify the economic cost of the achievement gap among poor and minority students. “The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools” puts a dollar figure on the shortcomings of our educational system by culling through federal and international test data and interviewing educators and economists. According to their report, if we closed the achievement gap the GDP in the U.S. would be $3 billion to $5 billion more per day. Here’s the New York Times synopsis:

Nationally, the gap in test performance between white and Hispanic students grows by 41 percent from Grade 4 through 12, and between white and black students it grows 22 percent, the report said. Students educated in different regions also showed marked variation in test performance, despite having similar demographic backgrounds. In Texas, for instance, schools are given about $1,000 less per student than California schools, but Texas children are on average one to two years of learning ahead of their counterparts in California.

This report, which was not commissioned by anyone, is proving quick fodder for reformers such as Joel Klein, Chancellor of the New York City Schools and a a signatory of Education Equality Project (EEP), (he introduced the report at the Press Club in Washington), and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Both pointed to the proof that we need uniform data systems to track student and teacher performance, national education standards, and “incentives” for good teachers and principals (translation: merit pay).

EEP has a handy gadget on their website that allows visitors to check their own state’s achievement gap. So how are we doing in New Jersey?

Graduation rate for all students: 83.3%
Graduation rate for white students: 87.3%
Graduation rate for black students: 62.2%
Graduation rate for Hispanic students: 64.4%
Graduation rate for Asian Americans: 86.3%

Here’s the percentage of students who achieved proficiency in 8th grade math tests:

All Students: 40%
White: 51%
Black: 14%
Hispanic: 20%
Asian-American: 69%

You get the idea.

Amidst the bleakness of the report, there are occasional stray sparks of optimism; most significant is proof from various initiatives and studies from other countries that we can narrow the achievement gap. In fact, we’ve seen proof right here in New Jersey. But can we overcome the obstacles of bureaucracy, inertia, and political interests?

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