Tuesday, February 16, 2016
Harvard brought together various professors from its different colleges and departments to talk about their research on social and economic inequality. The conclusion spanning the various disciplines was that educational inequality is at the center of the problem of inequality in general. Ronald Ferguson, for instance, explained:
Education may be the key to solving broader American inequality, but we have to solve educational inequality first. Ferguson says there is progress being made, there are encouraging examples to emulate, that an early start is critical, and that a lot of hard work lies ahead. But he also says, "There's nothing more important we can do."
"The position of U.S. black students is truly alarming," wrote Fryer, the Henry Lee Professor of Economics, who used the OECD rankings as a metaphor for minority standing educationally. "If they were to be considered a country, they would rank just below Mexico in last place."
He and others point out that enormous strides in closing education gaps occurred between 1970 and 1990, but then the nation hit a plateau and has been stuck ever since. The effects of this plateau reverberate in various life opportunities. The explanation for the plateau is, in large part, the nation's backtracking on segregation and inequality. The trend, however, can be reversed. Roland Fryer, an economist at Harvard,set out in 2004 to use an economist's data and statistical tools to answer why black students often do poorly in school compared with whites. His years of research have convinced him that good schools would close the education gap faster and better than addressing any other social factor, including curtailing poverty and violence, and he believes that the quality of kindergarten through grade 12 matters above all. He puts the relative weight of that one factor at 70 percent of the solution.
Supporting his belief is research that says the number of schools achieving excellent student outcomes is a large enough sample to prove that much better performance is possible. Despite the poor performance by many U.S. states, some have shown that strong results are possible on a broad scale. For instance, if Massachusetts were a nation, it would rate among the best-performing countries.
More on his and other's research here.