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More Bad News From the 'Condition of Education'

The news coverage yesterday of the U.S. Department of Education's annual Condition of Education report focused on the disturbing increase in the percentage of high-poverty schools in the U.S.—and rightly so. According to the report, in one in six schools across the country, three-quarters or more of the students come from families poor enough to qualify for federally subsidized school meals.

But there are some other unsettling trends in the report that got less attention. For instance, the statistics compendium notes that, at a time when the percentages of students earning bachelor's degrees is increasing, so, too, are the gaps in bachelor's degree attainment between white students and their black and Hispanic counterparts. According to the report, the black-white gap in the proportion of 25- to-29-year-olds with bachelor's degrees increased from 12 to 18 percentage points between 1971 and 2009. The Hispanic-white gap grew even more, rising from 14 to 25 percentage points over the same period.

A commenter on edweek.org yesterday offered some new statistics that may help explain the growing divide: Between 1984 and 2007, the wealth gap between African-American and white families more than quadrupled, growing from $20,000 to $95,000. The statistics come from a new study by the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis. Defining wealth as "what you own minus what you owe," it tracked the same set of families over 23 years. The bottom-line inference here: Even though federal grants and loans are intended to iron out financial disparities among college-going students, they may not provide enough of an incentive to draw poor African-American and Hispanic kids to college and keep them there for four years.

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