Students of color now make up a
majority of the school system for the first time in history, and, according to data
recently explored at FiveThirtyEight, they also happen to be performing better than ever—but still not as well as their white counterparts. Without a thorough understanding of statistics, or significant involvement in education data and policy, you might never have noticed all of the progress made by black and Hispanic students. For those of us without a statistics degree,
it’s complicated but it’s great. The Nation’s Report Card, also known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, has regularly shown that there are huge gaps between our students. What it hasn’t necessarily shown, at least not without a deeper dive into the data, are the gains being made by black and Hispanic students. Fortunately, FiveThirtyEight has done the analysis:
Upon closer inspection, you’ll notice that black and Hispanic students have made tremendous gains in math and reading on the nation’s gold standard for measuring these skills. While the overall math averages for 9-year-olds grew by 25 points between 1978 and 2012, average scores among black and Hispanic students increased by 34 and 31 points, respectively.
FiveThirtyEight goes further with the data, explaining why these gains aren’t immediately evident when just looking at the averages and overall gains.
So, why haven’t minority students’ numbers boosted the overall average? There are two main reasons: Black and Hispanic students have grown as a share of all students in the U.S., yet despite the improvement of these groups, their scores are still lower than those of white students. That means the average doesn’t represent the considerable student growth at play.
Though this shows important progress, comparing students of color to their white counterparts may not be the highest bar we could set. In fact, there is still a lot of work left to do for
all students. Looking at
international data from 2012, the United States is ranked 27th in mathematics, 17th in reading and 20th in science among 34 developed nations. Now is
not the time to take our foot off the pedal and revel in our progress. Now is the time to continue moving forward with education policies and practices that have been shown to improve outcomes for students.
Charter schools, for instance, have been shown to be an effective means of increasing achievement for black and Hispanic students and must continue to be an option given to families. Teachers are the
most important in-school factor for affecting student learning, thus identifying talented ones is pivotal to improving education.
Valentina Payne joined Bellwether Education Partners in 2021 as chief of staff to Andy Rotherham on the External Relations team. Prior to Bellwether, she spent seven years at brightbeam, where she most recently served as its chief growth officer, overseeing operations, finance, fundraising, and strategic growth of the organization.