Trends in the Black-White Achievement Gap:Clarifying the Meaning of Within- and Between-School Achievement Gaps
We decompose black-white achievement gap trends between 1971 and 2004 into trends in within- and between-school differences. We show that the previous finding that narrowing within-school inequality explains most of the decline in the black-white achievement gap between 1971 and 1988 is sensitive to methodology. Employing a more detailed partition of achievement differences, we estimate that 40 percent of the narrowing of the gap through the 1970s and 1980s is attributable to the narrowing of within-school differences between black and white students. Further, the consequences for achievement of attending a high minority school became increasingly deleterious between 1971 and 1999.
The authors thank the Harvard University Achievement Gap Initiative and the U.S. Institute for Education Sciences (National Assessment of Educational Progress Secondary Analysis Grant R902B070031) for financial support of the research on which this paper is based. They also thank William Evans for answering many questions about the Cook & Evans research described in this paper and for providing copies of the computer programs used in that research. The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.