We Were Never Data-driven

Harold Ekeh showing off his acceptance letters to all 8 Ivy League Schools. He was born in Nigeria and migrated with his parents at age 8.

Harold Ekeh showing off his acceptance letters to all 8 Ivy League Schools. He was born in Nigeria and migrated with his parents at age 8.


I’m retired, after more than twenty years full-time teaching in high school, in Portland Public Schools.  During that time, and with greater and greater urgency toward the end of my tenure, we were continually beseeched, as teachers, to do whatever we could to “close the gap” between our majority-ethnic-group students and our minority-ethnic-group students.

In the (in my opinion, mistaken) rhetoric of the day, we were to “close the black-white gap” of achievement, which, unfortunately for us math teachers, was most glaring in the schools’ math test scores.

While we teachers cautioned that the research into this black-white gap had showed that the best predictor of success for black students was for them to come from upper soicoeconomic groups, the administrators who took us each year to task wanted to know what we were going to do for our school’s students, never mind some sort of global picture.  And there were many hours of teacher-administrator meetings devoted, I kid you not, to the subject.  We submitted plans, we racked our brains, we began each school quarter with renewed dedication to making “progress.”

Now that I am retired, I find that this was impossible anyway.  An article published this year by Chanda Chisala, a Zambian immigrant to the United States who has held fellowships at Stanford University and the Hoover Institution, produces the following table, published in the January 2009 Journal of Blacks in Higher Education:



Chisala comments

It does indeed appear as if black children are regressing toward a mysterious lower mean intelligence when a child of black parents making 200,000 dollars a year scores lower than a white child from a less than 20,000 dollars a year home – probably living in much worse neighborhoods and going to much worse schools. Almost all the excuses I have seen for this strange pattern do not hold up under scrutiny. The fact that a black family at 200,000 dollars income has less total wealth than a white family at the same income level is not a convincing explanation to me for this extreme SAT score gap. Africans in the UK who have both low income and low wealth have children performing at the white average or even above (and as I will definitively prove in part 2, this is certainly true of African immigrants in America too).

Neither is the supposed pervasive white racism argument too convincing. It’s just hard for me to see how racism can make black children of over 200,000 dollar income parents perform below 20,000 dollar whites (what’s that about?). The fact that these high income blacks live in good neighborhoods with high quality schools should have indicated to policy makers that the solution for black children underachievement is not more spending on education or taking poor blacks to schools in better neighborhoods (since the ones already living in good neighborhoods still perform badly); it is not even about improving their incomes, clearly. But that would be in a world where policy is driven by cold logic and data rather than hot sentiments and ideology (from the left or the right).

This significant difference in test scores may well be environmental, given the impressive record of achievement of Caribbean and African black immigrants to the United States; but it’s not something we teachers, at Grant or Benson or Jefferson High School, can correct with better lesson plans.


About M. Meo

Worked as translator, museum technician, truck lumper, lecture demonstrator, teacher (of English as a Second Language, science, math). Married for 25 years, 2 boys aged 18 & 16 (both on the Grant cross-country team). A couple of scholarly publications in the history of science. Two years in federal penitentiary, 1970/71, for refusing the draft.
This entry was posted in Cameron Whitten, Diffeomorphisms on a manifold, Don Gavitte, Education, Healthcare, Inequality, Local government, Mathematics, Oakland, Ronald Reagan, Spiritual life. Bookmark the permalink.

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