David Brooks has long been a stalwart supporter of education reform, both the choice-and-charters flavor and the testing-and-accountability variety. So it was a real downer to read his recent column declaring that, when it comes to Black America, “Better education is not leading to equality.”
What he should have said is that “more education is not leading to equality,” because Brooks slipped into the tempting trap of confusing educational attainment with academic achievement.
Here’s the heart of his column:
We Americans believe in education. We tend to assume that if you help a young person get a good education and the right skills, then she’ll be able to make her way in American society. Opportunity will be bountiful. Social harmony will reign.
This formula has not worked for many African Americans.
Over generations, great gains have been made in improving Black students’ education. In 1968, just 54 percent of young Black adults had a high school diploma. Today, 92 percent do. In 1968, about 9 percent of young African American adults had completed college. Today, roughly 23 percent have.
And yet these gains have not led to the kind of progress that those of us who preach the gospel of the American dream would have predicted and that all young people are entitled to.
The median income for a White head of household with a college degree is $106,600. The median income for a comparable Black college graduate is only $82,300. As my colleagues on the editorial page noted in 2017, Black college graduates earned about 21 percent less per hour than White college graduates. Over all, Black families earn $57.30 for every $100 White families earn. These pay gaps have been widening since 1979, not shrinking.
I don’t dispute his facts, nor his depressing assertions that the wealth gaps between college-educated white and black adults are big and getting bigger. On top of that, a recent Fordham Institute study by John Winters at Iowa State found that the “college earnings premium” for African Americans is significantly smaller than for whites nationwide and in every state with a substantial black population.
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Mike Petrilli is president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, and executive editor of Education Next.
This post originally appeared in Flypaper.