Study finds poverty, not race, is key factor in student achievement

Brookings Institution Senior Fellows Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst and Richard Reeves, along with Senior Research Assistant Edward Rodrigue found that poverty—not race—is the real challenge for segregated schools, and that improving school quality is key to closing racial achievement gaps.

The study titled, “Segregation, race, and charter schools: What do we know?” notes that school districts have become more economically segregated. Many school districts are less racially segregated, but school segregation by family income has increased since 1990 both within and between school districts.

The authors note that “race and economic status are of course highly correlated, with black students four times as likely to be in a high-poverty school as a low-poverty one; for whites the ratio is the other way round.”

Charter schools were also examined in the study and results show that they are also more likely to be racially segregated, compared to traditional public schools that serve the same geographic area. Despite that segregation, studies of urban charter schools present compelling evidence that high-quality urban charters can overcome the effects of segregation on student achievement, the study says.

The authors concluded, “The U.S. is an increasingly diverse nation, but remains a highly segregated one. Our schools reflect both our separateness and our inequality. If the main objective is to narrow racial achievement gaps, we need to understand to what extent, and in what way, segregation influences those gaps.”