(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)
Last week I told you that White DC 4th grade students were outscoring the average achievement of Black 8th graders on math by a wide margin. The below chart presents data from the 2011 4th grade math NAEP along with 8th grade scores from 2015. Data for White and Black students from the DCPS and Black students from DC charters are presented.
I’ve looked at the both the main NAEP and the Trial Urban District Assessment and you simply cannot find another spot that matches DC for achievement gaps. As you can see, by 4th grade DC White students have already demonstrated a level of mastery of mathematics that 8th grade Black students come nowhere close to matching by 8th grade. At fourth grade a sixty point gap between the achievement of White and Black students yawns (272 to 212). Meanwhile DCPS Black students have not come close to catching up to the 4th grade White score 4 years later. In fact at the rate of progress shown by DCPS Black students we would expect them to catch up to the 4th grade scores of DCPS White students somewhere around their sophomore or junior year of high-school.
No one should view the closing of these gaps as easy. Notice that DC Black students attending charter schools started 8 points ahead of their district counterparts in 2011 and then gained more between 2011 and 2015 (46 points for charter students, 36 for District). This left DC Black students within striking distance of the 4th grade score of DC White students (272 to 266) but still far behind DCPS 8th grade White students (314 to 266). Still DC’s Black charter school students made the largest overall gains (46 points) and did so for about half of the average revenue per pupil in DCPS.
Sick to your stomach yet? Can’t believe it? Well let’s check the tape for the NAEP reading exam.
We see precisely the same pattern- by 4th grade DC White students demonstrate a level of mastery of reading that Black students will not equal by 8th grade. A huge gap between DCPS White and Black students (64 points) yawns out in the 2011 4th grade scores and does not meaningfully narrow by the time the cohort reaches 8th grade in 2015 (63 points). DC Black students attending charter schools demonstrated a smaller gap in 2011 (57 points) and had narrowed it a bit further by 2015 (51 points) but had still not caught up to the score of DCPS White students in 2011.
Before you reach for your demographic fatalism pistol let me just note that FRL eligible Black students attending district schools in Boston scored 24 points higher than FRL Black students attending district schools in DC. New York City and Houston clobbered DCPS by 16 points in the same comparison. None of these districts receive $29,000 per student in revenue. Houston didn’t sniff half of that figure. We cannot disentangle the effect of schooling and family with these data, but other systems seem to do much more for similar students with much less.
Getting back to the Heritage study– someone take a look at this data and tell me why oh why would we want to shower $29,000 per student on the system that produces such catastrophic results for disadvantaged kids. Charters receive only $14k per student that and get better results. Congress provides a constantly politically imperiled $8k per child on a small voucher program for low-income DC kids that merely gets them over the high-school graduation finish line at a 20% higher rate. This system of finance has been in place for decades now. Piling money on a system proficient only at serving the needs of the already advantaged while starving systems serving the disadvantaged for funds makes sense to someone.
It just doesn’t make sense to me. It shouldn’t make sense to you either.