Everyone knows that black students in general do not perform as well in school as white students, much less Asian American students. But few realize how painfully large the gap is. Even fewer know that there are particular black schools, even in low-income neighborhoods, where students perform above the national average.
Discussing racial gaps in education is taboo in some quarters. But this subject is discussed deeply and thoroughly in a new book titled "No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning" by Abigail Thernstrom of the Manhattan Institute and Stephan Thernstrom of Harvard. They are also the authors of the best book on race relations -- "America in Black and White" -- so there are high expectations for this new book.
"No Excuses" lives up to those expectations. If you read just one book about American education all year, this should be the book. It not only goes into the causes and cures of racial disparities in education, in the process it punctures many of the fads, dogmas, and pious hypocrisies of the education establishment.
First, the existing gap: Black high school students graduate an average of four years behind white students in academic skills. In other words, the high school diplomas they receive are given -- not earned -- for a junior high school education.
The excuses for this range across the spectrum from poverty to racism and even innate lack of ability. Yet none of these excuses stands up to the facts.
As the Thernstroms show, there are some schools where the students are equally poor and equally black, where test scores are outstanding. Moreover, such schools seldom get any more money than the schools that are failing.
Some of the most heavily financed schools are doing miserably. Even spending $17,000 per pupil, Cambridge, Massachusetts was still left with a huge gap between the test scores of its black and white students. In fact, black students in Cambridge scored lower than other black students in nearby communities with less than half as much spending per pupil.