The Common Core test, implemented in New York City public schools for the first time last year, caused a stir because much fewer students passed it than the previous version. It set a higher standard for what a student should know, suggesting that past scores were inflated and the education system was all along worse than even what we’d suspected.
The overall score drop, however, was not equal across the board. The knowledge gap was present as always, and black and Hispanic kids had steeper falls than white and Asian kids. For instance, the math proficiency rate dipped 30.5 percent among black sixth graders and 33 percent among Hispanic sixth graders. The rate among Asian and white students in that age group decreased by 24.7 and 29.6, respectively.
The gap wasn’t even across the boroughs either, according to a study released this month by the National Urban Research Group.
It was widest in Manhattan: 73.5 percent of Asian sixth graders and 70.6 percent of white sixth graders in Manhattan tested proficient in math. Only 15.7 percent of the borough’s black sixth graders and 17.9 percent of its Hispanic sixth graders hit that mark.
Among eighth graders, the gap between Asian and black students was even higher, at a difference of 58.4 percent.
The gaps among the boroughs roughly corresponded to their respective levels of poverty. The smallest gap, by far, was in the Bronx, where 36.5 percent more Asian sixth graders than black sixth graders tested proficient in math.
The margin is slimmer, however, not because there were fewer kids who tested poorly, but because fewer kids scored at the high end of the scale: 46.8 percent of Bronx sixth graders scored at the lowest level of the math test, while the other four boroughs ranged from 29 to 34 percent.
There are many converging socioeconomic factors contributing to the gap. One of the simpler reasons: many students go to schools primarily made up of classmates of the same skin color. And if a school is bad, it brings all those kids down together.
New York City, a recent UCLA study showed, has the most racially segregated public school system in America. In more than half of the city’s community school districts, minorities made up at least 90 percent of the student population. Over past two decades, white students have comprised a smaller and smaller portion of the city’s public school population, from 21 percent in 1990 to 14.5 percent in 2011.
The homogeneity is particularly striking in NYC charter schools. In Manhattan 97 percent of charter schools have student populations that are at least 90 percent minority; 90 percent of Brooklyn charters do. In the Bronx, it’s 100 percent.