Report: Minority Students Receive a Better Education in Conservative Cities Than They Do in Progressive Ones

Published April 2, 2020

“Conservative” cities do a far better job of educating minority students than “progressive” cities. That is the conclusion of a new report from brightbream, a “nonprofit network of education activists demanding a better education and a brighter future for every child.”

The report, Secret Shame: How America’s Most Progressive Cities Betray Their Commitment to Educational Opportunity for All, analyzed data from the 12 most conservative cities (such as Oklahoma City, Virginia Beach, and Jacksonville) and compared it to the data from the 12 most liberal cities (such as San Francisco, Washington, and Seattle) and finds the progressive cities have, on average, achievement gaps in math and reading that are 15 and 13 points higher, respectively, than the conservative cities.

Brightbeam’s rankings of cities’ progressiveness and conservatism is based on “criteria developed independently” from a peer-reviewed study published in The American Political Science Review in 2014. Altogether, these 12 progressive cities have a 15.1 point math achievement gap for black students, a 13.5 percent reading achievement gap for black students, a 15.3 percent math achievement gap for Latino students, and a 12 percent reading achievement gap for Latino students. The progressive cities have a 7 percent black high school graduation gap and an 11.9 gap for Latino students.

In San Francisco, the most progressive city in the United States, there is an astounding 58-point achievement gap between white and black students in mathematics. While 70 percent of white students in city are proficient in the subject, just 12 percent of black students are. In the second-most progressive city, Washington, D.C., there is a 60-point reading achievement gap between white and black students, as 83 percent of white students are proficient in the subject, while just 23 percent of black students are. (Keep in mind as well that the District of Columbia spends more than $27,000 per pupil, more than any state and 106 percent higher than the national average. Obviously, D.C. schools are not getting great bang for the buck.)

Half of the progressive cities analyzed in the study (San Francisco, Washington, Seattle, Oakland, Minneapolis, and Portland) have achievement gaps in both math and reading that exceed 40 points.

Conservative cities have much lower average achievement gaps, at 26 points for math and 27 points for reading. In fact, three of the conservative cities (Virginia Beach, Anaheim, and Fort Worth) have “effectively closed the gap in at least one of the academic categories we looked at, literally achieving a gap of zero or one.” Another, Oklahoma City, has higher high school graduation rates for minority students than white students.

“Our results demonstrate that there is a negative difference between our most progressive and most conservative cities, and it can’t be explained away by factors such as city size, racial demographics, spending, poverty or income inequality,” the report states. “In cities where most of the residents identify as political progressives, educational outcomes for marginalized children lag at a greater rate than other cities. That finding is stable no matter how we looked at the data. The biggest predictor for larger educational gaps was whether or not the city has a progressive population.”

“In light of the report’s findings, now might be a good time for the progressive movement to pump the brakes on its education rhetoric and keyboard warriorhood and regroup on how to meaningfully commit to transformational change for the black and brown students in their cities,” writes Erika Sanzi at Project Forever Free, one of brightbeam’s subsidiary organizations.

A simple way for progressives to commit meaningfully to transformational change for minority students would be to embrace education choice programs such as education savings accounts, Child Safety Accounts, and tax-credit scholarships. Copious empirical research on these private school choice programs has shown these programs offer families improved access to high-quality schools that meet their children’s unique needs and circumstances. Moreover, these programs improve access to schools that deliver quality education inexpensively. Additionally, these programs benefit public school students and taxpayers by increasing competition, decreasing segregation, and improving civic values and practices.

Students attending private schools are also less likely than their public school peers to experience problems such as alcohol abuse, bullying, drug use, fighting, gang activity, racial tension, theft, vandalism, and weapon-based threats. There is also a strong causal link suggesting private school choice programs improve the mental health of participating students.

If progressives really want to improve education outcomes for minority students, the easiest way to do that would be to allow minority parents the opportunity to remove their children from public schools that fail to educate them and to place them in an environment where they can actually acquire a meaningful, useful education. The more schooling options we give to minority families, the more likely we will be to see the achievement gaps highlighted in brightbeam’s eye-opening study start to decline.