Inaction by Policymakers Adds to the Black-White Educational Achievement Gap

Baylor_IMA new study by researchers at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, finds that state educational policymakers have an impact on the Black–White educational achievement gap. The study examined efforts by state policymakers to address issues of teacher quality, which has been shown to be a critical factor in improving test scores of Black and minority students.

“The persisting achievement gap between Black and White students has distinctly political foundations,” the authors write. “Instead of promoting equality of opportunity, America’s system of K-12 education may worsen political inequalities.”

The authors note that only when White students test scores start to decline do state legislators take notice and take steps to improve teacher quality. Co-author Peter Flavin, an assistant professor of political science at Baylor University, stated, “You might expect that in states that have more Black students, government would be more attentive, but we didn’t find that. Whether analyzed at the policymaking level or the level of individual citizens’ political attitudes, White students receive far more attention and subsequent response compared to African-American students.”

Dr. Flavin points out that even in state’s with large numbers of Black legislators, actions to promote teacher quality such as pay for performance or so-called “combat pay” for good teachers who volunteer to work at low-performing schools, are often opposed by teacher’s unions. And these unions are major supporters of the Democratic Party, so many Black legislators may be reluctant to support measures opposed by the unions.

The article, entitled “The Politic Foundations of the Black-White Education Achievement Gap,” was published on the website of the journal American Politics Research. It may be accessed here.

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