Voice: Jaekyung Lee

Jaekyung Lee is a professor at the University at Buffalo SUNY who has researched educational equity and achievement gaps.

“I think the race gap and income gap are closely intertwined but the race gap needs special attention and policy intervention.”

Overall, it’s better to say the education achievement gap has narrowed substantially throughout the last five decades, but most of the gap narrowing occurred in the ‘60s and, ‘70s, and in the early ‘90s the gap stopped narrowing further. Most recently there has been some narrowing of the gap, but I don’t know if that will continue or if it’s temporary.

Jaekyung Lee

Jaekyung Lee

Your state has a small black population. It has been stable. It has not changed demographically. For Hispanics, with immigrants the demographic composition would have changed over time.

I think it’s a combination of multiple forces widening the gaps. One is the policy shift in education. The focus shifted from equity to excellence and so we have the Title One program and others focusing on the equity issues, but still the major emphasis is no longer on the bottom, poor performing students, it’s more like high standards for everyone. But the question is who benefits from the high standards?

The second one is economic changes. I know since the ‘80s the income gap has widened so that might have an impact on education opportunities, particularly in terms of college access, financial aid, all of those things.

Then the third might be the cultural effects. It’s controversial. Some people argue that particularly the black adolescents’ behavior – in terms of problem behaviors – have worsened. But is that cultural or is that economics? I don’t know.

The implications are a big issue. For example, the University of Michigan affirmative action case in 2003, then Justice (Sandra Day) O’Connor said that we still need affirmative action but that the black-white gap might be closed in 25 years from that time. But given the recent trend, the slowing down and even reversing, I don’t think the gap will be closed in 25 years. That raises big questions about what we need to do in the meantime. I think more recently the concern has shifted from the racial gap to the income gap. But still I believe the racial gap remains a big issue in this country. I think the race gap and income gap are closely intertwined but the race gap needs special attention and policy intervention. No matter what we do for the income, I think race is still an issue.

Unfortunately, racial disparities have disappeared from media attention. I think investment in human capital is important, including programs like Head Start, that target low income people. But the participation is voluntary, so we simply encourage or even make the pre-school education universal so somehow everybody has to get the pre-school education. That’s the time the (achievement) gaps seem to start, even before kids go to kindergarten. So I think intervention with consideration for some racial disparities would be a big help.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *