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Racial Disparities and Discrimination in Education: What Do We Know, How Do We Know It, and What Do We Need to Know?


by George Farkas — 2003

This paper reviews what we have learned about racial discrepancies in education, with particular attention to those that might be attributable to discrimination. Empirical studies have found that, on average, African American, Latino, and American Indian children arrive at kindergarten or first grade with lower levels of oral language, prereading, and premathematics skills, as well as lesser general knowledge, than that possessed by White and Asian American children. African American, Latino, and American Indian children are also reported to display behaviors less well suited to the school’s learning environment. It has been estimated that at least half, and probably more, of the Black-White gap in twelfth-grade academic achievement would be eliminated if we could eliminate the Black-White performance gap at school entry. The remainder of the performance gap occurs during grades one through twelve. It is here that researchers have looked for discrimination by teachers and school administrators. In particular, they have looked for curricular track placements that, adjusting for prior performance, are disadvantageous for ethnic minority students. They have also looked for the possibility that teachers hold lower expectations for, and are less encouraging to, minority students. The evidence on these matters is mixed. It is suggested that, with the cooperation of school administrators and teachers, district-specific studies of these issues might be undertaken, using both local administrative data and participant-observational methods.


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Prepared for the Workshop on Measuring Disparities in Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, Committee on National Statistics, National Research Council, Washington, D.C., July 1, 2002. I am grateful for discussant comments on a previous draft from Ron Ferguson and for comments from Sam Lucas and other members of the Committee.


Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 105 Number 6, 2003, p. 1119-1146
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11550, Date Accessed: 12/11/2017 12:41:18 AM

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About the Author
  • George Farkas
    Penn State University
    E-mail Author
    GEORGE FARKAS is a professor of sociology, demography, and education at The Pennsylvania State University. His research focuses on schooling inequality and how it can be reduced. His tutoring program, Reading One-to- One, helped invent President Clinton’s America Reads initiative. His paper (with L. Shane Hall) ‘‘Can Title I Attain Its Goal?’’ appeared in Brookings Papers on Education Policy 2000. His paper ‘‘Cognitive Skills and Noncognitive Traits and Behaviors in Stratification Processes’’ will appear in the Annual Review of Sociology in 2003.
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