A report featured in Educational Researcher has examined achievement gaps between minority and White students, as well as poor and wealthy students, finding that Americans are typically more concerned about — and more likely to push for proposals that would close — wealth-based achievement gaps rather than racial-based achievement gaps. In addition, Americans were found to be more likely to offer explanations for the causes of wealth-based gaps.
Authors Jon Valant and Daniel A. Newark state that what the public believes about an issue within the realm of education can have an affect over how that issue is dealt with. The authors add that as public officials are incentivized to serve their constituents, public opinions can often shape the agendas of policymakers as well as their decisions. Although public opinion is not the only way decisions are made, the issues chosen to be addressed by elected officials tend to focus on those thought to be of importance to the public.
The report, "The Politics of Achievement Gaps: U.S. Public Opinion on Race-Based and Wealth-Based Differences in Test Scores," focuses on the achievement gap prevalent in schools throughout the United States, or the difference between academic outcomes for groups that are historically advantaged and disadvantaged. The last two presidents have pushed for educational reforms on the topic in an effort to close the gaps which are highlighted in average test scores.
The study takes a closer look at what the public believes about three test score gaps, including Black-White, Hispanic-White, and poor-wealthy. The authors test for differences through the random assignment of questions to survey respondents pertaining to one of the gaps. Responses were then compared across groups in an effort to explore whether policymakers may see varying levels of public support for different gaps. A large national sampling was used for the study.
Findings suggest strong evidence to support the idea that the American public has stronger support for wealth-based test score gaps than either race or ethnicity-based gaps. While just 36% of Americans believe the Black-White gap should be made a priority and 31% say the same for the Hispanic-White gap, 64% of Americans argue that the priority should be placed on closing the poor-wealthy test score gap.
While respondents who were high-income, low-income, and white all supported the closure of poor-wealthy gaps over the Black-White and Hispanic-White gaps, no significant differences were noted within the Black and Hispanic subgroups in terms of prioritizing wealth-based versus race and ethnicity-based gaps.
In addition, respondents were more supportive of ideas that would help to narrow the wealth-based gap over racial or ethnicity-based gaps, and were more ready to attribute these gaps to the explanations provided by the authors.
Stronger support was offered for the summer school proposal over the teacher bonus and voucher proposals, however, the authors suggest that the overall support offered for these initiatives could be due to the wording used.
The final proposal suggested the assignment of students from lower-scoring groups to the best teachers in the district. Support for this was found to be higher for other districts around the country (15%) rather than a respondent's own district (11%). While high-income respondents were more likely to support the proposal for districts other than their own, no significant difference was found.