Achievement Gap Widens in Midwestern and Northern States

By Guest Columnist Jul 15, 2009

Written by Miriam Leshin Some in America may imagine the North and the Midwest to be far more progressive than the formerly Jim Crow South. But when it comes to education reform, this is patently false. The New York Times reported yesterday that while the Black-white achievement gap has historically been widest in the South, the most dramatic gaps now exist in Midwestern and Northern states, according to a new study released by the Department of Education. The study finds two explanations for this surprising regional shift: that Black achievement has made significant strides in the South over the last two decades, and that Black achievement in the North has either improved at a rate slower than that of whites or has actually declined. Accordingly, the widest Black-white gaps are now seen in states like Wisconsin, Nebraska, Illinois, as well as Connecticut, which in the last two decades have also seen the most dramatic increase in income inequality than any other state. The study utilized a series of federal tests in math and reading called the National Assessment on Educational Process, which were given every two to four years from 1992 to 2007. This regional shift comes at a time when many Black people are migrating to the New South–for perceived social, economic, political, and possibly educational opportunity—in what is known as the New Great Migration. While education inequality is a widespread issue that we must tackle on a national scale, studies like this provide insight into where our efforts could and should be concentrated to produce effective change, and also highlight the underlying systemic factors—such as the related wealth gap–that undoubtedly contribute to the achievement gap.