NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Black Educational Achievement Across the Decades

February 20, 2002

By almost any measurement, black Americans steadily improved their educational levels throughout the 20th century. Despite the claims of white racism leveled by what some are calling the "civil rights industry," blacks are using education as a route to the "sunlit uplands" of American prosperity.

The recent prosperity in black communities comes at a time when more government programs and nonprofit foundations than ever are in place to help black business entrepreneurs.

Gains in education have been dramatic:

  • In 1959, only 20.7 percent of blacks ages 25 and older held a high school diploma, compared to 78.9 percent in 2000 -- only slightly less than the 84.1 percent of the overall population.
  • A greater proportion of blacks ages 3 to 34 are now enrolled in school than whites.
  • According to Census Bureau figures, the illiteracy rate for blacks ages 14 years or older was just 1.6 percent in 1979 -- although, granted, definitions of literacy and illiteracy vary greatly.
  • Nevertheless, using similar standards, the illiteracy rate had been 33 percent in 1910.

Source: Steve Miller, "Graduating to Success," Washington Times, February 19, 2002.


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