Race and the blame game

This story from the Washington Post appears regularly these days in something like this form:

The [name of county in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area] school system is well regarded. However, minority students continue to lag behind, and some parents complain that the school system isn’t doing right by their children.

The latest version pertains to the Arlington, Virginia public schools. The Post reports:

There is no shortage of praise or accolades for Arlington Public Schools. Students in the suburban D.C. school system outperform their peers on state tests. Most high school students graduate with advanced diplomas. The district spends nearly $20,500 per student, more than any other district in a region flush with well-heeled public schools.

It’s the best school system in Virginia, according to the most recent standings on the ranking website Niche.

But a growing chorus of black parents in the 27,500-student school system is disrupting the narrative — the school system is excellent, they say, for wealthy, able-bodied white students and less so for everyone else.

But what evidence supports the claim that the same school system is excellent for able-bodied white students and less than excellent for other students? Critics point out that 93 percent of white students in Arlington schools pass a state math exam, compared to only 71 percent of black students.

But what evidence shows that this is because instruction in math is better for white students than for black ones? The Post presents none.

Nor is there any reason to assume that Arlington teachers teach math one way to white students and another way to black students. It does seem to be true that blacks aren’t placed in “gifted” programs at nearly the same rate as whites. But a student doesn’t need to be in a program for the gifted to pass a state math exam for which the pass rate exceeds 80 percent.

In any case, a racial disparity in gifted program participation rates does not demonstrate that black students are being treated unfairly. The school system’s “equity and excellence supervisor” says there’s a gap in the degree to which parents are aware of the processes through which students gain entry into these programs. Instead of complaining that the school system isn’t fair, parents should better inform themselves about programs for gifted students.

It may also be that minority students disproportionately fail to meet the objective criteria for being in a gifted program. It may be that they are already behind by the time they enter the school system. No less an authority than Joe “keep the record player on” Biden has argued that they are.

I’m kidding, of course, about Biden being an authority. However, there is evidence to support his claim on this particular point.

There have always been some parents who blame schools for their kids’ lack of success. We used to laugh this off.

These days, playing the race card in furtherance of blame shifting precludes us from laughing. But it doesn’t make the blame shifting any more plausible.

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