Jencks and Ferguson will discuss a new Brookings book The Black-White Test Score Gap edited by Christopher Jencks and Meredith Phillips. Jencks, Phillips, and their co-contributors stress the importance of the black-white test score gap, saying that it accounts for the entire gap in college graduation rates between blacks and whites, and also for much of the wage gap between blacks and whites. It is also, they write, the single most important obstacle to the efforts by both universities and employers to achieve racial balance. Narrowing the gap, therefore, is a crucial step toward reaching racial equality. The authors also conclude that:
- The gap can be reduced. Test scores are sensitive to environmental change. As evidence, they point out that I.Q. test scores throughout the world have risen since the 1930s and that the black-white score gap narrowed dramatically in the 1980s.
- Neither traditional liberal nor standard conservative explanations for the gap hold up. Income inequality between blacks and whites and school segregation play only small roles; growing up in single-parent families is even less of a factor; and theories about genetic origins for the gap are incompatible with evidence from a variety of studies.
- There is evidence that some school-based strategies for reducing the gap would help. These include smaller classes in early grades, screening new teachers to select those with high test scores, and raising teachers’ expectations for black students by exposing them to programs that have already proven successful.
- But changes in schools are only part of the answer, because the score gap is already very large among students entering school. Therefore, children’s experiences must be improved at home, in day care, and in preschool.
- There needs to be more intensive scholarship in how specific parenting practices in different groups affects cognitive growth. This is an area that many scholars have been reluctant to study.
- Similarly, we need more data from randomized experiments to evaluate alternative educational policies. The federal government needs to support such studies, as it has in job training, welfare reform, public health, and other areas.