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Fact-Checking the Educational Equality Project Fact Sheet

In honor of the Educational Equality Project conference this week—you remember the Educational Equality Project, don’t you?  The unholy alliance between Rev. Al Sharpton and Chancellor Joel Klein, funded by a $500,000 tax-deductible gift from former Chancellor Harold Levy’s Connecticut-based hedge fund to Sharpton’s National Action Network that was laundered through Education Reform Now, a non-profit linked to Education Reform Now Advocacy Inc. (a lobbying group), and Democrats for Education Reform (a political action committee)?  Throw in how the gift helped to offset Sharpton’s personal and organizational IRS tax woes—a $1 million settlement last July—and Levy’s lobbying City Hall on a range of horseracing initiatives worth hundreds of millions to his company and its partners, and you have the making of a John Grisham novel.  All that’s missing is a few hookers.  

The Educational Equality Project, which has garnered signatories from a large number of prominent politicians and education leaders, recently launched its website.  At the top of the page is a rotating list of “facts,” backed by a list of “all the facts,” with links to references that presumably document or support the facts.  skoolboy decided to fact-check some of the facts.  Are they fact or fiction?

Barely half of African-American and Latino students graduate from high school, while nearly 80% of white students do.

Toss-Up:  These figures are accurate if we limit consideration to on-time graduation rates.  Chris Swanson of Editorial Projects in Education reports a Cumulative Promotion Index, an estimate of the four-year graduation rate, of 58% for Hispanics and 55% for African-Americans in the class of 2005.  These rates would likely increase if we extended the possible time to completion to five or six years.

A black male is more likely to be in prison than to have a post-graduate degree; one in nine black men between 20-34 are incarcerated.

Fact:  According to the 2006 American Community Survey, 492,000 Black men aged 25 or older held a graduate degree.  This is fewer than the 634,000 Black men aged 25 or older who are incarcerated.  The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that about 11% of non-Hispanic Black male U.S. residents were in state or federal prisons or local jails in mid-year 2006.

Four years in a row with a top-quartile teacher is enough to close the Black-white test score gap.

Fiction:  No study has ever shown this.  The obvious citation is the Gordon, Kane and Staiger Brookings report, which suggests that this would be the case if results cumulate.  But the statement here is what happens when people get sloppy.  What Gordon, Kane and Staiger actually said was that four years in a row with a top-quartile teacher versus four years in a row with a bottom-quartile teacher could close the Black-white test score gap.  That second part is pretty important, because the odds of any student having a bottom-quartile teacher four years in a row are pretty slender.  But, as eduwonkette and I have argued elsewhere, Brian Jacob has shown that the effects of exposure to an effective teacher decline sharply over time, so there is no evidence that this claim could be true.

White students in the 12th grade are, on average, four years ahead of their African American peers.

Fiction:  The original sourcing of this claim appears to be the Thernstrom and Thernstrom book No Excuses, which compared the scores of eighth-graders and 12th-graders on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).  Elizabeth Green quoted an NCES official on why such comparisons are inappropriate.  Even though NAEP uses a common proficiency scale for fourth, eighth, and 12th grade reading and mathematics, the underlying skills being assessed in eighth grade and 12th grade are sufficiently different that a given score does not represent the same competencies in both grades.

Third grade reading scores are used by Arizona, California, and New Mexico as a factor to estimate the future need of prison beds.

Fiction:  The source provided for this is an op-ed piece written by an advocate that appeared in the New Mexico Sun News in 2007.  “We should also know that children—our children are being targeted—third grade reading scores are one of the components tallied in the projected need for prison beds,” wrote Tilda Sosaya.   But I have found no evidence of the use of third-grade test scores in projections for prison populations in any of the models currently in use, and it’s really hard to imagine how third-grade test scores could possibly be useful for this purpose.

The reading skills gap between white 17 year-olds and 17 year-olds of color is wider now than it was in 1990.

Fiction:  Data from both the long-term trend National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the main NAEP show that the reading gap between white and racial/ethnic minority youth is not wider today than it was in 1990.

2004 graduation rates for Black boys:  21% in Indianapolis, 31% in Detroit, and 35% in Atlanta. 

Toss-Up: I can’t verify the 2004 data, which come from the Schott Foundation.  The state of Michigan reported an on-time graduation rate of 48% for Black males for the 2007 cohort of graduates.  Georgia reported a 67% graduation rate for Black students (male and female combined) in Atlanta in 2007.   

So what’s the point?  The achievement gap is no joke:  racial and ethnic differences in educational outcomes have real consequences for individuals’ lives.  But there’s little to be gained by misrepresenting the facts about the achievement gap.  Signing on to a half-baked set of claims about the facts undermines the seriousness of purpose that I am sure characterizes most of the Educational Equality Project’s board, staff and signatories.  This part of the act shouldn’t be hard to clean up.

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