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Understanding the Black-White Test Score Gap in the First Two Years of School

  • Roland G. Fryer

    (Harvard Society of Fellows and NBER)

  • Steven D. Levitt

    (University of Chicago and American Bar Foundation)

In previous research, a substantial gap in test scores between white and black students persists, even after controlling for a wide range of observable characteristics. Using a newly available data set (the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study), we demonstrate that in stark contrast to earlier studies, the black-white test score gap among incoming kindergartners disappears when we control for a small number of covariates. Real gains by black children in recent cohorts appear to play an important role in explaining the differences between our findings and earlier research. The availability of better covariates also contributes. Over the first two years of school, however, blacks lose substantial ground relative to other races. There is suggestive evidence that differences in school quality may be an important part of the explanation. None of the other hypotheses we test to explain why blacks are losing ground receive any empirical backing. © 2004 President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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Article provided by MIT Press in its journal Review of Economics and Statistics.

Volume (Year): 86 (2004)
Issue (Month): 2 (May)
Pages: 447-464

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Handle: RePEc:tpr:restat:v:86:y:2004:i:2:p:447-464
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  1. Thomas, D. & Currie, J., 1993. "Does Head Start Make a Difference?," Papers 694, Yale - Economic Growth Center.
  2. O'Neill, June, 1990. "The Role of Human Capital in Earnings Differences between Black and White Men," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 4(4), pages 25-45, Fall.
  3. William Rodgers & William Spriggs, 1996. "What does the AFQT really measure: Race, wages, schooling and the AFQT score," The Review of Black Political Economy, Springer, vol. 24(4), pages 13-46, June.
  4. James Heckman & Pedro Carneiro, 2003. "Human Capital Policy," NBER Working Papers 9495, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Neal, Derek, 1997. "The Effects of Catholic Secondary Schooling on Educational Achievement," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 15(1), pages 98-123, January.
  6. Cook, Michael D & Evans, William N, 2000. "Families or Schools? Explaining the Convergence in White and Black Academic Performance," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 18(4), pages 729-54, October.
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