Beyond Demographic Destiny: An Analysis of Massachusetts' Minority and White Student Achievement Gaps

Pioneer Institute 
Richard Cross, Theodor Rebarber, Kathleen Madigan, Bruce Bean
March 2010

This second Pioneer Institute report on student achievement gaps in Massachusetts (here's the first) analyzes gaps for black, Hispanic, and white students in several districts. It identifies those communities that are gap-reducing and those that are gap-widening. The authors compare reading and math scores of minority students at the district level to white students statewide, and those of white students at the district level to their white peers statewide. (They reason that if the district is low-performing, non-minority students also probably get a "deficient education" so it doesn't make sense to use them as a control.) Then they control for each town's average family income and educational attainment--the non-school factors that often bear the blame for poor students' low achievement--to predict the achievement gap in that district. (They call these "predicted gaps.") In lay language, they found a non-trivial number of districts with gaps smaller than predicted--i.e., performing better than districts with similar demographic challenges. The conclusion is, as the title indicates, demography isn't destiny. Hopefully cool methodological maneuvering like this can point us to more districts making headway in the achievement gap battle. Read it here.

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