Race to the bottom

Science score by race

Science score by race

The Wall Street Journal has an important discussion up today on the sad state of math and science education. We lag behind a goodly number of other developed nations, and this is not a new phenomenon.

One factor that does not get mentioned in the WSJ discussion is race. It turns out that, at least since 1970, blacks and hispanics have depressed our averages in science, and, I’d be willing to bet large, math. On science, the chart shown here (source document) is depressing evidence of the lack of progress among blacks in the period 197-1999. Whites did not improve, but remain about 17% ahead of blacks.

The differences between whites and blacks have been essentially static over the 29 years covered by the data; chances are that nothing significant has changed since 1999.

So, without blacks we’d be a better country, math and science-wise? Likely. But we don’t have that choice. The question before the house ought to be, “how do we improve black and hispanic achievement in math and science?” The worst choice would be to dumb down math and science education so that blacks and hispanics appear to be doing as well as whites.

The second worst choice would be to simply throw more money at schools with large numbers of black and hispanic students. Washington, D.C. schools come to mind: mostly black; most per-capita expenditures of all major school systems; continuing lousy results, well below national standards.

The best choice? Maintain standards, fast-track the brightest, stop pretending that all students have the same abilities, and stop trying to prepare everyone for a college education that they can not possibly benefit from.

It’s not important that everyone do well in math and science. It is vitally important that we have enough bright students who can lead our nation in math and science, regardless of any racial calculus.

It’s ok if blacks are under-represented in the sciences, just as it is ok for whites to be under-represented in pro football and basketball.


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