Race, schools, income

November 29, 2005

In the most recent national report card on student achievement - the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress - minority pupils showed some welcome, though not overwhelming, signs of narrowing the long-standing achievement gap vs. the performance of white students. Maryland's testing of its public-school students in recent years has shown much the same improvements. And within certain parts of the Baltimore region, such as the Howard County schools, the relative gains by black students also have been pronounced.

Virtually everywhere across this country, school systems are struggling with the problem of how to reduce the persistent overall correlation between race and school achievement - with many publicly setting the goal of wiping out racial achievement differences within a few years. In September, for example, Anne Arundel County schools reached an agreement with civil rights leaders that calls for erasing the black-white achievement gap by 2007.

If there's any doubt why that is so critical to the nation as a whole, we recommend a November report on race, education and income from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, which makes the case that the health of the U.S. economy is at stake if these disparities aren't bridged.

The report puts together the changing American workforce (which is becoming more diverse) with the currently lower average education levels of non-white workers and projects a drop in the overall education level of U.S. workers. And as a result of less education, the report predicts that, by 2020, average personal income for Americans will fall in real terms by 2 percent - after gaining 41 percent over the last two decades.

That's right: At a time when education levels in such global competitors as China and India are steeply rising, America's would be dropping - if current trends continue. A larger percentage of American workers would lack a high school diploma and a smaller share would have associate's or bachelor's degrees, likely holding back the nation's development of a knowledge-based economy.

Maryland is not among the 10 states identified in the report as facing the greatest projected declines - a group led by increasingly Hispanic California, where personal incomes are projected to fall by about 5 percent. But like many states, Maryland also is becoming increasingly diverse: Its public-school population recently has been growing roughly 1 percent more non-white every year. Last year, for the first time, a majority of the state's public-school students were non-white. By 2020, Maryland's total population is expected to be almost 40 percent non-white, up from about 35 percent.

Now, of course, we are talking about race, school achievement and personal income in terms of overall averages for huge numbers of students and workers. Many individuals defy such averages. (And some minority groups - Asians - tend to outperform whites.) But the overall disparities persist, and this new report makes a strong case for the national economic necessity of schools finally finding ways to eliminate them.

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