Monday, June 18, 2007

Race, Poverty, and Statistics

Regarding the recent editorial on the racial "gap" in Minnesota graduation rates, I am of two minds. I agree with the call for educational reform. However, it is difficult to get past the sloppy and/or sneaky way they interpret the data from Education Week.

First off, the report breaks out racial groups and also gives data on poverty. But it does not combine the two (in the version I found), leaving one to wonder whether differences in poverty rates could account for the racial differences.

Secondly, it may be less important to look at Asian/Pacific students as a group than to look at immigrants and first generation Americans versus those who can trace their roots back several generations. If we are truly looking for solutions, it is probably more helpful to look at which students grew up speaking English at home than to paint with a broad racial brush.

Finally, as I have said before, we should focus on raising everyone's achievement, not just on shrinking the "gap." In criticizing Minnesota, the editorial actually cites the numbers for individual minority groups, which is an improvement over those who focus only on the difference between whites and minorities. If one focuses only on the gap, an easy way of narrowing it is to lower white achievement.

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