Abigail and Stephen Thernstrom have produced a book that should rock the nation. "No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning" is an absolutely brilliant analysis of what ails American education today. Though the Thernstroms will doubtless receive a certain amount of abuse for tackling this sensitive subject, no fair-minded person reading this scholarly and lucid book can fail to recognize their good faith. It is hard to imagine a more necessary book about domestic policy.
The Thernstroms deserve the title "civil rights activists" more than any other living Americans because they are outraged about the greatest obstacle to full racial equality -- poor educational performance by black and Hispanic kids. They begin with an unflinching look at the data. The average black 17-year-old scored in the 23rd percentile in reading in 1999, compared with the average white at the 50th percentile.
"That means," write the Thernstroms, "that 77 percent of white students today read better than the average black student. And conversely, only 23 percent of blacks read as well or better than the average white."
In math and science, things are even worse. The average black student was at the 14th percentile in math, behind seven out of eight whites. And in science, the black average was at the 10th percentile, behind nine out of 10 whites. "The average black and Hispanic student at the end of high school has academic skills that are at about the eighth-grade level."