Some Schools Much Better Than Others at Closing Achievement Gaps Between Their Advantaged and Disadvantaged Students

July 24, 2017


Important new work by Reardon and his collaborators shows that not only test scores but also racial test score gaps vary dramatically across American school districts. In this latter paper, Reardon and coauthors report that while racial/ethnic test score gaps average around 0.6 standard deviations across all school districts, in some districts the gaps are almost nonexistent while in others they exceed 1.2 standard deviations. There are many potential explanations for this cross-district variation in achievement gaps, including racial differences in socioeconomic status , differences in racial/ethnic segregation, differences in school and neighborhood quality, and the like; and the evidence to date about what the leading causes of this variation are is descriptive, rather than causal. Nonetheless, the fact remains that in some places, racial/ethnic and socioeconomic differences are extraordinarily larger than in other places. These differences also correlate with important long-run economic outcomes as documented in a new work by Chetty and co-authors, where they find suggestive evidence that “quality of schools—as judged by outputs rather than inputs—plays a role in upward mobility.”


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