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50 Years After Civil Right Act, Education Gap Barely Changed, Report Says

A new analysis of education trends in the United States shows that 50 years after the Civil Right Act, there is still an achievement gap between white and Black students. According to U.S. News and World Report, Eric A. Hanushek, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, called the findings “a national embarrassment.”

“It’s remarkable,” said Hanushek, author of the analysis.”I knew that the gap hadn’t been closing too much, but when I actually looked at the data I was myself surprised.”

He added that educational improvement was occurring at too slow a rate.

“If we continue to close gaps at the same rate in the future, it will be roughly two and a half centuries before the black-white math gap closes and over one and a half centuries until the reading gap closes,” Hanusek said.

The analysis is part of a series by Education Next focused on the Coleman Report, a study mandated by the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The Coleman Report, which studied 600,000 students at 3,000 schools, discovered widespread disparities in the American education system. According to U.S. News and World Report, the Coleman Report revealed 87 percent of white 12th graders scored higher than the average Black 12th grader in both reading and math.

Fifty years later the gap has barely narrowed, according to Hanushek. Black students still lag behind white students in reading and math.

“If [the Coleman Report] was expected to mobilize the resources of the nation’s schools in pursuit of racial equity, it undoubtedly failed to achieve its objective,” Hanushek said. “Nor did it increase the overall level of performance of high school students on the eve of their graduation, despite the vast increase in resources that would be committed to education over the ensuing five decades.”

Hanushek has found some improvement. Back in 1964, the South showed a large gap between Black and white students. Now that gap is inline with the rest of the nation.

The Coleman Report also found that increased educational spending didn’t necessarily lead to improved test scores.

“Coleman found that variations in per-pupil expenditure had little correlation with student outcomes,” Hanushek said. “Although this was one of the key findings of the report, little attention was paid to this inconvenient fact. At the time, the Johnson administration was trumpeting a federally funded compensatory education program that was supposed to equalize educational opportunity by concentrating more funding on students living in low-income neighborhoods. But the finding gradually assumed greater importance in policy debates, as extensive subsequent research engendered by the Coleman Report reinforced this conclusion.”

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