What Role School-District Ideology in the Racial Performance Gap?


by James A. Bacon

It is widely acknowledged by every serious (and not-so-serious) student of the racial performance gap between whites and African-Americans that half or more of the difference can be explained by socio-economic status. Whites come from more affluent families on average, and they enjoy the benefits that come from affluence, not the least of which is growing up in an intact family household where the adults themselves are well educated and have more money to lavish on their children.

But roughly half the variation cannot be explained by socio-economics. I have raised the possibility on this blog that different ethnic groups have different cultural attitudes towards education (pretty indisputable when it comes to the superior performance of Asians). But school divisions’ approaches to education might be a factor as well. One could hypothesize that school boards and administrators in more politically conservative localities would have a different approach to education — to pedagogy and student discipline, say — than their counterparts in more ideologically liberal districts.

I came to this question by way of a blog post on Taki’s Magazine, “Crevasses in the Classroom,” (hat tip: Andrew Roesell), which took a look at data published by the Stanford Education Data Archive. The Stanford scholars use the data to document and explain the gaps in white-black and white-Hispanic academic performance (though curiously, not the Asian-white gap), and, as expected, found that socio-economic differences explain much but not all of the difference.

In Taki’s Magazine, Steve Sailer rummaged through the database and found that school districts with the most extreme disparities in performance tend to skew heavily to the left side of the ideological spectrum. The greatest gap in the country occurs in none other than the People’s Republic of Berkeley, California, where the median black student would score at only the 5th percentile if he were white. How could that be? Sailer’s explanation:

One exacerbating factor might be that Berkeley’s schools have traditionally been run according to progressive education fads insisted upon by white leftists. For example, the Gates Foundation gave a million dollars to Bill Ayers’ brother Rick Ayers, another ’60s radical ex-fugitive, to work his “small learning communities” voodoo upon Berkeley High School, with an unsurprisingly disastrous impact on math test scores.

Frustrated black parents in Berkeley have at times organized protests in favor of “back to basics” education for their children.

The second worst disparity, says Sailer, is in Chapel-Hill Carrboro, home of the University of North Carolina; the third is in Shaker Heights, the “famously liberal” suburb of Cleveland”; the fourth in Asheville, N.C., “the arts and crafts capital of America, which attracts gays and polite white-flight types”; and the fifth in Evanston, Ill., home to Northwestern University.

The theory sounded plausible, but anecdotal. So I decided it to test it with some Virginia data taken from the Stanford Education Data Archive. (My apologies to Stanford for any abuses that I may have subjected the data to.) Since my goal was to do a quick-and-dirty analysis for purposes of a blog post, not an academic treatise, I looked only at Stanford’s 4th grade English language disparity. A more comprehensive look would entail running correlations for other grades and doing math scores as well. Also, readers should note that the data set I drew from encompassed only 78 of the state’s school districts, so it is not complete.

I could think of no readily available metric that measures the ideological proclivities of school boards and school administrations. As a proxy, I took the percentage of voters who voted for Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election, reasoning that the priorities and sentiments of a more liberal-Democratic leaning electorate would be reflected in the election of local school board officials, the appointment of school administrators and the approach to education generally.

The findings from this one admittedly superficial analysis, seen in the chart above) seem to confirm Sailer’s reasoning. Approximately 15% of the variability in white-black academic performance in the 4th grade can be explained by the political inclination of the electorate and, by implication, the ideological proclivities of the school districts.

Now, I’m not prepared to draw hard-and-fast conclusions from just that one data sample. I’d like to take a much more comprehensive look. But the preliminary findings suggest that such an effort would be worthwhile.

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4 responses to “What Role School-District Ideology in the Racial Performance Gap?

  1. I’m not going to wade over to Taki Mag and read the original because Steve Sailor is a blithering idiot who has never been right about anything in the entirety of my time on the Internet and you debase yourself by coupling to his yolk. Of course, I know the blood rushes from your head anytime the opportunity to play the Big White Daddy who can explain to all the Black people too stupid to realize that the liberals they vote for to help them can’t really help them because liberals are too stupid to know how to help presents itself, so your oversight in this regard is understandable.

    You didn’t see fit to publish a table with the school districts involved, but I’ll take a stab at the Virginia results – since we’ve essentially tread this ground before here at das Rebellion – and just say that socioeconomics account for the gap in Virginia since the areas most likely to vote hardest against Obama are small, rural, white and poor so everyone there is starting from similar places and the amount of Black students is so small that there isn’t enough variability to draw any meaningful trend. Meanwhile, the areas in Virginia tend to be large, urban, multiracial and have mixed economies so gaps begin to emerge.

    These aren’t hard or provocative thoughts and they’ve been discussed at length here before.

    • You might be right. That’s why I heavily qualified my findings from a single data set. But I’m guessing that there is no data that would ever meet your standards of proof.

      I tell you what, why don’t you specify ahead of time, without either you or me knowing the results, what would be a reasonable methodology for determining whether or not the voting characteristics (and thus the ideology of the school board and administration of a given district) are correlated with minority student achievement? We’ll subject that methodology to the comments of readers, and then see if you and I can agree upon an objective approach. Then we see what happens. We can proceed one of two ways. I can crunch the numbers and submit them to you to make sure they accord with the methodology, or you can crunch the numbers and submit them to me.

      I can live with any result. Can you?

      • First of all, you didn’t HEAVILY qualify anything.

        Second of all, I know YOU are not getting all pouty about studies and standards of proof given that you ignore vast swaths of peer reviewed scientific studies confirming the existence of anthropomorphic global climate change while clinging to nonsense like “The temperature of the Earth hasn’t risen in 18 years because the oceans have been moved to the moon for the purposes of this assertion!” To say nothing of all the picking gnat shit out of pepper you do anytime a study about campus rape is released. “The sample wasn’t large enough! The sample was large enough but it was biased! Women are too feeble minded to know the difference between regret and rape!”

        Third, I’m not going to do your job for you. You get paid to do this shit not me.

        Fourth, you admit at the outset that at least fifty percent of the gap is the result of SES. If you really care that much about fixing education shouldn’t THAT be the part you want to address since it’s the largest observable driver? Instead of picking around the edges looking at something else that is a stand in for SES?

  2. we’ve heard of Voodoo Economics – this is Voodoo Data Analysis – where one finds two data sets – plots a correlation then surmises causation.

    A few posts back we dealt with a quote from Charles Murray:

    ” You want to have a job training program for welfare mothers? You think that’s going to cure the welfare problem? Well, when you construct that job training program and try to decide what jobs they might qualify for,you had better keep in mind that the mean IQ of welfare mothers is somewhere in the ’80s, which means that you have certain limitations in what you’re going to accomplish.”

    so the question was asked – how does Mr. Murray know what the IQ of welfare mothers is that he then bases his views on?

    The people who deal in this stuff – are not interested in real data – just whatever can plausibly confirm their biases…..

    Jim continues to CHOOSE to look at racial disparities in academic performance at the school DISTRICT level – rather than comparing schools within those districts – that tell a different story – one of which there are high performing schools and low performing schools where blacks at different schools within the same school district score differently.

    I’ve asked Jim why that is – why black kids themselves have academic disparities WITHIN the school districts.

    and we’re about to see some data on that with changes made in the NCLB law (now ESSA) – which will now require that each school report how much it is spending for that school on teaching resources:

    “…. the newly reauthorized Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) designed to help low-income students by funneling aid to school districts based on student demographics. At issue is whether federal regulations should require recipient districts to divvy up their funds so that their high-poverty schools get as many dollars per student as their schools with more affluent students.”

    “…. This seems like a no-brainer, given the goals of Title I. But the proposed federal rules are controversial precisely because many big districts don’t, in fact, divide their funds equally. Rather, most districts (perversely) send a smaller share of their state and local funds to the schools with the most poor and minority students’

    ” That’s all about to change.

    For more than a decade, the federal government has required districts to report student outcomes by school. Spending was the missing piece. The new federal ESSA rights that wrong and will require districts to account for school-by-school spending and publicly report it.”

    ” School boards will have no choice but to do the hard work of rethinking longstanding policies that contributed to the uneven spending. .”

    ” Regardless, the ESSA requirement for school-level spending transparency is a game changer.”


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