NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Many Factors Show a Gap

November 24, 2003

An examination of hundreds of studies on educational achievement has identified 14 specific, unambiguous factors that correlate with gaps in student performance by race/ethnicity. Of the 14, 11 factors also varied significantly by income.

Some of the factors may only be "markers," for underlying conditions not directly measured, says the report. For example, higher levels of lead have been found in 22 percent of black children compared to 6 percent of whites. Although lead poisoning is known to affect development and learning, this does not mean a significant number of children are being poisoned. It may indicate other environmental hazards. Other health factors in which there was a gap were birth weight, hunger and nutrition.

Other factors encompassed support for learning in the home, including parental expectations, reading to young children, access to quiet study space, attention to physical and health needs, amount of TV watching, and parent availability.

School factors include the rigor of the curriculum, teacher preparation, teacher experience and attendance, class size, and availability of appropriate technology-assisted instruction, and how frequently a student changed schools. Regarding teachers, for example, the study found:

  • There is a gap in the proportion of students who begin and end the school year with the same teacher -- 82 percent for whites compared to 57 percent for blacks.
  • Black and Hispanic twelfth-grade students are more than twice as likely as
  • The rate of teachers lacking even a minor in the subjects they teach in high-poverty schools is more than double that in low-poverty schools -- 34 percent and 15 percent, respectively during the 1999-2000 school year -- and the rate for high-minority schools is substantially above that for low-minority schools.

Source: Paul E. Barton, "Parsing the Achievement Gap: Baselines for Tracking Progress," October 2003, Educational Testing Service; Greg Toppo, "Poor, minority Kids Face Long Odds in Education," USA Today, November 24, 2003.


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