Racial Gap Roadmap for Teachers, Administrators

Published September 1, 2006

Generational Change: Closing the Test Score Gap
edited by Paul E. Peterson (Rowman & Littlefield, 2006)
216 pages, softcover, ISBN 0742546098, $24.95
Available through Amazon.com

In this scholarly book, the authors draw on a variety of research, facts, and theories to identify ways in which students of all races and backgrounds can raise their educational performance and reduce the achievement gap between racial groups.

The editor, Paul Peterson, includes an impressive array of research statistics to examine the effects a broad range of policy alternatives–accountability, school choice, preschool programs, and greater resource commitments–can have in improving education. He concludes competition can help improve schools and that increased school choice for parents can help the entire American public education system.

Peterson and nine other authors address the premises behind the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the landmark case Grutter Bollinger v. University of Michigan Law School (2003), in which Justice Sandra Day O’Connor opined for the majority that “25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary.” As a result of that decision, Peterson surmises, America’s schools need to provide an equal level of quality education for all students regardless of race, ethnicity, or family background.

Finding the Root

The authors examine the causes of the racial achievement gap, consider what it will take to close it, and offer significant research and statistics. The book explains how the past two decades have brought an array of cultural changes that continue to have a significant impact on schools today, such as large percentages of minorities growing up in single-parent households.

Shrugging aside conventional pieties about desegregation, preschool, and the notion that schools serving black children are struggling against insuperable odds, the authors conclude the currently favored remedies are of limited value because the current American public school structure is simply outdated. They recommend increased choice and competition.

To the authors, educational reform is breaking down the barriers of cultural, racial, and income differences. The book outlines a plan to limit the effects of racial preferences not just in college applications but throughout society.

Starting Early

It all starts in early education, say the authors. If the playing field is level for students of all backgrounds in preschool and elementary school, they believe, that balance will ultimately extend to the rest of American society.

One chapter details lessons learned from desegregation after Brown v. Board of Education (1954). The question is whether desegregation has helped close the racial education gap, and there is some evidence it has, the authors note. But they are unsure that forced integration can be defended on the basis of educational benefits.

In addition, the authors claim it is difficult to force changes in the racial composition of schools on a large scale because Americans are too comfortable with the notion of geographically defined school districts. Therefore, they advocate using interdistrict transfers of students of all ages, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds to private, charter, and voucher schools.

Offering Support

The overriding theme of the book’s second half is the importance of school district accountability in improving student achievement–meaning district funding must be tied to schools’ performance, as measured by benchmarks such as student test scores and college scholarships.

But accountability alone won’t effectively raise overall student performance and provide equal outcomes across various groups simultaneously, the authors note, because without backing from school administrators, accountability won’t be stressed.

School choice holds more promise in shrinking the achievement gap than does the traditional system of assigning students to a school based on where they live, the authors conclude. But even where school vouchers are available, the authors show, wealthier families still find ways to get their children into desired schools and don’t want lower-income children to be let in.

What Generational Change offers that other school choice advocacy books might not is detailed data supporting the arguments presented, and unique perspectives on how to improve minority students’ performance in America’s schools today through increased school competition and choice.

Mike Scott ([email protected]) is a freelance writer in White Lake, Michigan.