Yes we can (close the achievement gap overnight)?

It seems three researchers have some provocative news: President Obama may already have eliminated the black-white test score gap. But the findings, and the accompanying Kool-Aid sodden New York Times article, have all the makings of an infomercial: lots of pizzazz, not so much substance. The study, which is suspiciously as-of-yet unpublished, found that a black-white performance gap on 20 Graduate Record Examination questions administered before the election disappeared after Obama's swearing-in. Could it be true? Previous research has documented a "stereotype threat" (i.e., black students become anxious about confirming a negative stereotype when asked to report their race on tests, and end up doing worse), so maybe Obama's historic rise has made African Americans feel better about their race, and thus about themselves, leading to higher scores? Perhaps, but not likely. The study suffers from major methodological maladies: "self-selection bias" (participants volunteered to take a test versus being randomly selected) and a small sample size--approximately 400 people. The Times should have been more skeptical--but then again, that's like asking Sarah Palin's fan club to question her grammar.

"Study Sees an Obama Effect as Lifting Black Test-Takers," by Sam Dillon, New York Times, January 22, 2009

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