Achievement gaps in the United States

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Achievement gaps in the United States are observed, persistent disparities in measures of educational performance among subgroups of U.S. students, especially groups defined by socioeconomic status (SES), race/ethnicity and gender. The achievement gap can be observed on a variety of measures, including standardized test scores, grade point average, dropout rates, and college enrollment and completion rates. While this article focuses on the achievement gap in the United States, the gap in achievement between lower income students and higher income students exists in all nations[1] and it has been studied extensively in the U.S. and other countries, including the U.K.[2] Various other gaps between groups exist around the globe as well.

Research into the causes of the disparity in academic achievement between students from different socioeconomic and racial backgrounds has been ongoing since the 1966 publication of the Coleman Report (officially titled "Equality of Educational Opportunity"), commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education, which found that a combination of home, community, and in-school factors affect academic performance and contribute to the achievement gap. According to American educational psychologist David Berliner, home and community environments have a stronger impact on school achievement than in-school factors, in part, because students spend more time outside of school than in school. In addition, the out-of-school factors influencing academic performance differ significantly between children living in poverty and children from middle-income households.[3][4]

The achievement gap, as reported in trend data collected by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), has become a focal point of education reform efforts by a number of nonprofit organizations and advocacy groups. Attempts to minimize the achievement gap by improving equality of access to educational opportunities have been numerous but fragmented, such as affirmative action, multicultural education, finance equalization,[clarification needed] and interventions to improve school testing, teacher quality and accountability.

Racial achievement gap[edit]

The education of African Americans and some other minorities lags behind those of other U.S. ethnic groups, such as Whites and Asian Americans, as reflected by test scores, grades, urban high school graduation rates, rates of disciplinary action, and rates of conferral of undergraduate degrees. Indeed, high school graduation rates and college enrollment rates are comparable to those of whites 25 or 30 years ago. It should also be noted that the category of African immigrant population (excluding Haitians and other foreign-born blacks born outside of Africa) has the highest educational attainment of any group in the United States, but they represent a small group within the larger African American population.[5]

East Asian Americans of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean descent score the highest on average, with the difference primarily on mathematics subtests, in all scholastic standardized tests such as the SAT, GRE, MCAT, USMLE exams and IQ tests followed by caucasian White people who score in the intermediate range, followed by Hispanic and African-American students whose scores are, statistically, considerably lower. U.S. students as whole have in general attained average scores on the International PISA test while other wealthy industrialized developed East Asian countries, such as China, Japan, Singapore and South Korea have the highest top scores. However, compared with children in some less developed countries like Benin where some children, especially girls, end their education after the elementary level, education in the United States is compulsory to age 16 regardless of race or class. It is expected that over half of public education students will be required to pass standards-based assessments which expect that all students to be at least exposed to algebra by high school and exit prepared for college. In many other nations, such as Germany and Japan, those with lower test scores may be tracked as skilled tradepersons or unskilled laborers.

Nowadays, there is a growing population of students who use online education, and the number of institutions which offering fully online degrees is also increasing. According to several studies, online education probably could create an environment where there is less cultural division and negative stereotypes of African Americans, thus protecting those students who have had bad experiences. In addition, the influence technology and user skills and so as economics and academic influences are tightly bonded, that may have positively contributed to African American online learners experience. However, it appears African American male students are less likely to enroll in online classes.

Statistical evidence and effects[edit]

Evidence of the achievement gap can be found using various measures, but one assessment used nationwide is the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The graphs below show the achievement gap on this assessment between black and white students and between Hispanic and white students in the U.S. over time. Although the gaps have generally narrowed in recent years according to this particular measure, there are clearly still large disparities between groups.


Caucasian-African American gap[edit]

NAEP-longterm-Black-math-ss09-09.gif NAEP-longterm-Black-math-ss09-13.gif NAEP-longterm-Black-math-ss09-17.gif

Caucasian-Hispanic gap[edit]

NAEP-longterm-Hispanic-math-ss10-09.gif NAEP-longterm-Hispanic-math-ss10-13.gif NAEP-longterm-Hispanic-math-ss10-17.gif


Results of the reading achievement test:

Caucasian-African American gap[edit]

NAEP-longterm-Black-reading-ss07-09.gif NAEP-longterm-Black-reading-ss07-13.gif NAEP-longterm-Black-reading-ss07-17.gif

Caucasian-Hispanic gap[edit]

NAEP-longterm-Hispanic-reading-ss08-09.gif NAEP-longterm-Hispanic-reading-ss08-13.gif NAEP-longterm-Hispanic-reading-ss08-17.gif

Long-term trends[edit]

NAEP reading long-term trends for ages 9, 13, and 17

Reading - ages 9 (light gray), 13 (dark gray), and 17 (black)

Education attainment[edit]

(Issued August 2003) Educational attainment by race and gender: 2000[6]
Census 2000 Brief
Percent of Adults 25 and over in group
Ranked by advanced degree                   HS   SC   BA   AD
Asian alone . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . .  80.4 64.6 44.1 17.4
White alone, not Hispanic or Latino.. . . . 85.5 55.4 27.0  9.8
White alone... . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  83.6 54.1 26.1  9.5
Two or more races. . . . . . . . . . . .    73.3 48.1 19.6  7.0
Black or African American alone . . . . .   72.3 42.5 14.3  4.8
Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander  78.3 44.6 13.8  4.1
American Indian and Alaska Native alone . . 70.9 41.7 11.5  3.9
Hispanic or Latino (of any race).. . . . .  52.4 30.3 10.4  3.8
Some other race alone . . . . . . . . . . . 46.8 25.0  7.3  2.3
HS = high school completed SC = some college
BA = bachelor's degree AD = advanced degree

African Americans lagged behind whites in 2000 by nearly a factor of two. However, it is less frequently observed[citation needed] that whites lag behind Asians by nearly as large a ratio. The group with the least education is not the African Americans, but the American Indians, Hispanic or Latino or other groups who have quite a different legacy of discrimination.[citation needed] The African-American community is behind the curve in education but statistics show 9 out of 10 young black adults ages 25 to 29 have completed high school or its equivalent.

In 2008, over three million degrees were awarded throughout the United States. Half of all degrees earned were bachelor's degrees. The bachelor's degree is one of the most awarded degrees for all ethnicities and races. Asians obtained bachelor's degrees more than any other race, followed by Whites. Despite high educational expectations, Hispanics are among the least educated group in the United States: 11 percent of those over age 25 have earned a bachelor's degree or higher compared with 17 percent of blacks, 30 percent of whites, and 49 percent of Asian Americans in the same age group (U.S. Census Bureau, 2003).[7] Asians obtain more first professional degrees than any other race. A high percentage[clarification needed] of Hispanics and American Indians/Alaska Natives have an associate's degree compared with other races. About 1–2% doctorate degrees are awarded to all races. The table below shows the number of degrees awarded for each group.

Status and trends in the education of racial and ethnic groups[8]

Race Associate's degree Bachelor's degree Master's degree First professional degree Cumulative %
Asians 6.9% 31.6% 14.0% 6.4% 58.9%
Whites 9.3% 21.1% 8.4% 3.1% 41.9%
Blacks 8.9% 13.6% 4.9% 1.3% 28.7%
American Indians/Alaska Natives 8.4% 9.8% 3.6% 1.4% 23.2%
Hispanics 6.1% 9.4% 2.9% 1.0% 19.4%

College and university enrollment[edit]

Between 1978 and 2008, college enrollment rates increased for all races. The college enrollment rate is determined by the percentage of high school students who enroll in two-year or four-year college and universities immediately after high school. In 2008, the college enrollment rate for all races was 69%. Although the college rate increased for each racial and ethnic group between 1980 and 2007, the enrollment rates for Blacks and Hispanics did not increase at the same rate as among White students. Between 1980 and 2007, the college enrollment rate for Blacks increased from 44% to 56% and the college enrollment rates for Hispanics increased from 50% to 62%. In comparison, the same rate increased from 49.8% to 77.7% for Whites. There are no data for Asians or American Indians/Alaska Natives regarding enrollment rates from the 1980s to 2007.[8]:118

In 2009, the enrollment rate of high school graduates reached a historical high of 70.1% (see above for statistics on the racial gap in graduation rates). Asian Americans have the highest enrollment rate (92.2%), followed by Whites (69.2%), Blacks (68.7%), and Hispanics (59.3%).[9]


African Americans were once denied educations. Even as late as 1947, about one third of African Americans over 65 were considered to lack the literacy to read and write their own names. However, by 1969, illiteracy as it had been traditionally defined, had been largely eradicated among African Americans—the number of among young adults was less than one percent, though African Americans still lag in more stringent definitions of document literacy. Inability to read, write or speak English in America today is largely an issue for immigrants, mostly from Asia and Latin America.

Illiteracy by age and race: 1947 to 1969
In thousands except percent
Civilian noninstitutional population 14 yrs and over
Source: US census

Nov 1969 14 ovr 14-24 25-44 45-64 65+
Total 1.0 0.3 0.5 1.1 3.5
White 0.7 0.2 0.4 0.7 2.3
Black 3.6 0.5 1.6 5.5 16.7
Mar 1959
Total 2.2 0.6 1.2 2.6 6.5
White 1.6 0.5 0.8 1.8 5.1
Black 7.5 1.2 5.1 11.3 25.5
Oct 1952
Total 2.5 1.2 1.3 3.5 6.9
White 1.8 0.8 5.0
Black 10.2 3.9 33.3
Oct 1947
Total 2.7 1.0 1.7 4.0 6.7
White 1.8 0.6 4.9
Black 11.0 4.4 32.4

High school graduation[edit]

Completed high school age 25-29 (1998)[10]

White Black Hispanic Asian
25+ 88% 77% 56% 85%
25-29 93% 89%

US Census surveys showed that by 1998, 89 percent of African Americans age 25 to 29 had completed high school, lagging only slightly behind 93 percent for whites. For all over the age of 25, clear majorities of whites, Asian Americans and African Americans had graduated at 88 percent, 85 percent and 77 percent, respectively. 56 percent, or barely over half of Hispanics 25 and over, had completed high school.

Income and class[edit]

Conservative African American scholars such as Thomas Sowell observe that while SAT scores are lower for students with less parental education and income[citation needed]. Asian Americans who took the SAT with incomes below $10,000 score 482 in math in 1995, comparable to whites earning $30–40,000 and higher and blacks over $70,000[citation needed]. Test scores in middle-income black communities, such as Prince George County, are still not comparable to those in non-black suburbs[citation needed].

State standards[edit]

Most state tests showing African American failure rates anywhere from two to four times the rate of whites, such as Washington State's WASL test, and only half to one-quarter as likely to achieve a high score, even though these tests were designed to eliminate the negative effects of bias associated with standardized multiple choice tests. It is a top goal of education reform to eliminate the Education gap between all races, though skeptics question whether legislation such as No Child Left Behind truly closes the gap just by raising expectations. Others, such as Alfie Kohn, observe it may merely penalize those who do not score as well as the most educated ethnic and income groups.[11]

Scored Level 3 on WASL Washington Assessment of Student Learning, Mathematics Grade 4 (1997) Data: Office Washington State Superintendent of Instruction

White Black Hispanic Asian Native American
17.1% 4.0% 4.3% 15.6% 1.6%

International comparisons[edit]

International educational math scores (2007)
(4th graders average score, TIMSS
International Math and Science Study, 2007)
American students:
(by origin)
Asian American 582
European American 550
Hispanic American 504
African American 482
Highlights From TIMSS 2007

As a whole, students in the United States lagged the best Asian and European nations in the TIMSS international math and science test. However, broken down by race, US Asians scored comparably to Asian nations, white Americans scored comparably to the best European nations. Although some racial generally score lower than whites in the US, they scored as well as whites in other European nations. Hispanic Americans averaged 505, comparable to students Austria and Sweden, while African Americans at 482 were comparable to Norway and Ukraine.[12]

Distribution in special education and gifted programs[edit]

Achievement gaps among students may also manifest themselves in the racial and ethnic composition of special education and gifted education programs. Typically, African American and Hispanic students are enrolled in greater numbers in special education programs than their numbers would indicate in most populations, while these groups are underrepresented in gifted programs.[13][14] Research shows that these disproportionate enrollment trends may be a consequence of the differences in educational achievement among groups.[15]

Debate on the origins of the racial achievement gap[edit]

Researchers have not reached consensus about the causes of the academic achievement gap; instead, there exists a wide range of studies that cite an array of factors, both cultural and structural, that influence student performance in school. Annette Lareau suggested that students who lack middle-class cultural capital and have limited parental involvement are likely to have lower academic achievement than their better resourced peers.[16] Other researchers suggest that academic achievement is more closely tied to race and socioeconomic status and have tried to pinpoint why.[17]

Economic factors[edit]

Economic factors were identified as lack of online course access (McCoy, 2012)[18] and online course attrition which indicated before (Liu et al., 2007).[19] Based on the National Center for Educational Statistic (2015),[20] about half of African American male students grew up in single-parent households. They are associated with higher incidences of poverty, which leads to poorer educational outcomes (Child Trends Databank, 2015). Low-income households tend to have fewer home computers and less access to the Internet (Zickuhr & Smith, 2012).[21]

For example, being raised in a low-income family often means having fewer educational resources in addition to poor nutrition and limited access to health care, all of which could contribute to lower academic performance.

Supposed genetic factors[edit]

Scientific consensus tells us that there is no evidence for a genetic component behind differences in academic achievement between racial groups.[22][23][24][25][26][27][28][29][30] However, pseudoscientific claims that certain racial groups are intellectually superior and others inferior continue to circulate. A recent example is Herrnstein and Murray's 1994 book The Bell Curve, which controversially claimed that variation in average levels of intelligence (IQ) between racial groups are genetic in origin, and that this may explain some portion of the racial disparities in achievement.[31] The book has been described by many academics as a restatement of previously debunked "scientific racism", and was condemned by both literary reviewers and academics within related fields.[25][26][27] Other academics have argued that there is no significant difference in inherent cognitive ability between different races that could help to explain the achievement gap, and that environment is at the root of the issue.[28][29][30]

The racial achievement gap in early childhood[edit]

Research shows that the achievement gap, which often is first measured (by standardized tests) in elementary school, actually begins well before students reach kindergarten as a “school readiness” gap.[32] One study claims that about half the test score gap between black and white high school students is already evident when children start school.[33]

A variety of different tests at kindergarten entry have provided evidence of such a gap, including the U.S. Department of Education's Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey of Kindergarten children (ECLS-K). While results differ depending on the instrument, estimates of the black-white gap range from slightly less than half a standard deviation to slightly more than 1 standard deviation.[34]

This early disparity in performance is critical, as research shows that once students are behind, they do not catch up. Children who score poorly on tests of cognitive skills before starting kindergarten are highly likely to be low performers throughout their school careers.[35] The evidence of the early appearance of the gap has led to efforts focused on early childhood interventions (see “Narrowing the achievement gap” below).

African American culture and family structure[edit]

Achievement gaps between African American students and White students in online classes tend to be greater than regular class. Expanding from 14% in 1995 to 22% in 2015 (National Center for Education Statistics, 2016).[36] Possible causes include differences in socio-economic status (Palmer et al., 2013),[37] academic performance differences (Osborne, 2001),[38] technology inaccessibility (Fairlie, 2012),[39] lack of online technical support (Rovai & Gallien, 2005),[40] and anxiety towards racial stereotyping (Osborne, 2001).[38]

The culture and environment in which children are raised may play a role in the achievement gap. Jencks and Phillips argue that African American parents may not encourage early education in toddlers because they do not see the personal benefits of having exceptional academic skills. As a result of cultural differences, African American students tend to begin school with smaller vocabularies than their white classmates.[41] Hart and Risley calculated a "30 million word gap" between children of high school dropouts and those of professionals who are college educated. The differences are qualitative as well as quantitative, with differences in "unique" words, complexity, and "conversational turns."[42]

However, poverty often acts as a confounding factor and differences that are assumed to arise from racial/cultural factors may be socioeconomically driven. Many children who are poor, regardless of race, come from homes that lack stability, continuity of care, adequate nutrition, and medical care creating a level of environmental stress that can affect the young child's development. As a result, these children enter school with decreased word knowledge that can affect their language skills, influence their experience with books, and create different perceptions and expectations in the classroom context.[43]

Studies show that when students have parental assistance with homework, they perform better in school.[44] This is a problem for many minority students due to the large number of single-parent households (67% of African-American children are in a single-parent household)[45] and the increase in non-English speaking parents. Students from single-parent homes often find it difficult to find time to receive help from their parent. Similarly, some Hispanic students have difficulty getting help with their homework because there is not an English speaker at home to offer assistance.[44]

Parenting influence[edit]

Parenting methods are different across cultures, thus can have dramatic influence on educational outcomes.[citation needed] For instance, Asian parents often apply strict rules and parental authoritarianism to their children while many white American parents deem creativity and self-sufficiency to be more valuable.[citation needed] Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Yale Professor Amy Chua highlights some of the very important aspects in East Asian parenting method in comparison to the “American way”. Chua's book has generated interests and controversies in the “Tiger Mom” parenting method and its role in determining children's education outcomes.[46] Many Hispanic parents and their children believe that a college degree is necessary for obtaining stable and meaningful work.[47] This attitude is reflected in the educational expectations parents hold for their children and in the expectations that young people have for themselves (U.S. Department of Education, 1995b, p. 88).[7] High educational expectations can be found among all racial and ethnic groups regardless of their economic and social resources (p. 73). Although parents and children share high educational aims, their aspirations do not necessarily translate into postsecondary matriculation. This is especially the case for Hispanic high school students, particularly those whose parents have not attended college.[48][49]

Parental involvement in children's education is influential to children's success at school.[50] Teachers often view low parental involvement as a barrier to student success. Collaboration between teachers and parents is necessary when working to help a child; parents have the necessary knowledge of what is best for their child's situation.[51] However, the student body in schools is diverse, and although teachers make an effort to try and understand each child's unique cultural beliefs, it is important that they are meeting with parents to get a clear understanding of what needs should be met in order for the student to succeed. School administrators must accommodate and account for family differences and also be supportive by promoting ways families can get involved. For example, schools can provide support by accommodating the needs of the family who have do not have transportation, schools may do so by providing external resources that may benefit the family.[52] As referenced by Feliciano et al. (2016), educators can also account for culture by providing education about the diversity at the school. This can be achieved by creating an environment where both teachers and students learn about cultures represented among the student population.

Larocquem et al. (2011) stated that family involvement may include visiting their children's class, being involved with a parent teacher organization, attending school activities, speaking to the child's class, and volunteering at school events. It is also important for families to be involved with the child's school assignments, especially by holding them accountable for completion and discussion of the work assigned.[51] Also, educators may want to consider how parental language barriers and educational experiences affect families and the influence of contributing to their child's education.[50] In addition, even when families want to get involved, they may not know how to collaborate with school personnel, especially for families who are Hispanic, African American, and or of low economic status.[53] A study done by Nistler and Maiers (2000), found that although different barriers for families may inhibit participation, families reported that they would want to participate nonetheless.[54] Larocque et al. (2011) suggest that teachers need to find out what values and expectations are held for the child, which should be done by involving parents in the decision making process.[51]

Hispanic views toward education[edit]

Disadvantages in a child's early life can cultivate into achievement gaps in their education. Poverty, coupled with the environment they are raised in, can lead to shortcomings in educational achievement. Despite strong standards and beliefs in education, Hispanic children consistently perform poorly, reflected by a low average of math and reading scores, as compared to other groups except African American.[55] Hispanic and African American children have been shown to be more likely to be raised in poverty, with 33% of Hispanic families living below the economic poverty level, compared to African American (39%), Asian (14%) and White (13%) counterparts.[55] Children who are raised in poverty are less likely to be enrolled in nursery or preschool. Though researchers are seeing improvements in achievement levels, such as a decrease in high school dropout rates (from 24% to 17%) and a steady increase in math and reading scores over the past 10 years,[55] there are still issues that must be addressed.

There is a common misconception that Hispanic parents are not involved in their child's education and fail to transmit strong educational values to their children. However, there is evidence that Hispanic parents actually hold their children's education in high value. The majority of Hispanic children are affected by immigration. It affects recent immigrants as well as the children of immigrants.[56] Both recent immigrants and the children of immigrants are faced with language barriers and other migration obstacles. A study explored the unique situation and stressors recent Latin American immigrants face. Hispanic students showed lower academic achievement, more absences, and more life stressors than their counterparts.[57] In 2014-2015, 77.8% of Hispanic children were English Language learners. This can be problematic because children may not have parents who speak English at home to help with language acquisition. Immigration struggles can be used as a motivator for students. Immigrant parents appeal to their children and hold high expectations because of the “gift” they are bestowing on them. They immigrated and sacrificed their lives so their children can succeed, and this framework is salient in encouraging children to pursue their education. Parents use their struggles and occupation to encourage a better life.[58]

Parental involvement has been shown to increase educational success and attainment for students. For example, parental involvement in elementary school has been shown to lower high school dropout rates and improved on time completion of high school.[59] A common misconception is that Latino parents don't hold their children's education in high regards (Valencia, 2002), but this has been debunked. Parents show their values in education by holding high academic expectations and giving “consejos” or advice. In 2012, 97% of families reported teaching their children letters, words or numbers.[55] A study reported that parent involvement during adolescence continues to be as influential as in early childhood.[58]

Motivation gap[edit]

Another explanation that has been suggested for racial and ethnic differences in standardized test performance is that some minority children may not be motivated to do their best on these assessments. Many argue that standardized IQ tests and other testing procedures are culturally biased toward the knowledge and experiences of the European-American middle class.[60][61]

Claude M. Steele suggested that minority children and adolescents may also experience stereotype threat—the fear that they will be judged to have traits associated with negative appraisals and/or stereotypes of their race or ethnic group. According to this theory, this produces test anxiety and keeps them from doing as well as they could on tests. According to Steele, minority test takers experience anxiety, believing that if they do poorly on their test they will confirm the stereotypes about inferior intellectual performance of their minority group. As a result, a self-fulfilling prophecy begins, and the child performs at a level beneath his or her inherent abilities.

"Acting white"[edit]

Some researchers[62] also hypothesize that in some cases, minorities, especially African American students, may stop trying in school because they do not want to be accused of “acting white” by their peers,[63] or that some minority students simply stop trying because they do not believe they will ever see the true or deserved benefits of their hard work. As some researchers point out, minority students may feel little motivation to do well in school because they do not believe it will pay off in the form of a better job or upward social mobility.[41][64] By not trying to do well in school, such students engage in a rejection of the achievement ideology – that is, the idea that working hard and studying long hours will pay off for students in the form of higher wages or upward social mobility.

Structural and institutional factors[edit]

Different schools have different effects on similar students. Children of color tend to be concentrated in low-achieving, highly segregated schools. In general, minority students are more likely to come from low-income households, meaning minority students are more likely to attend poorly funded schools based on the districting patterns within the school system. Schools in lower-income districts tend to employ less qualified teachers and have fewer educational resources.[65] Research shows that teacher effectiveness is the most important in-school factor affecting student learning. Good teachers can actually close or eliminate the gaps in achievement on the standardized tests that separate white and minority students.[66]

Schools also tend to place students in tracking groups as a means of tailoring lesson plans for different types of learners. However, as a result of schools placing emphasis on socioeconomic status and cultural capital, minority students are vastly over-represented in lower educational tracks.[67] Similarly, Hispanic and African American students are often wrongly placed into lower tracks based on teachers’ and administrators’ expectations for minority students. Such expectations of a race within school systems are a form of institutional racism. Some researchers compare the tracking system to a modern form of racial segregation within the schools.[68]

Studies on tracking groups within schools have also proven to be detrimental for minority students.[69] Once students are in these lower tracks, they tend to have less-qualified teachers, a less challenging curriculum, and few opportunities to advance into higher tracks.[70] There is also some research that suggests students in lower tracks suffer from social psychological consequences of being labeled as a slower learner, which often leads children to stop trying in school.[17] In fact, many sociologists argue that tracking in schools does not provide any lasting benefits to any group of students.[71]

The practice of awarding low grades and test scores to children who struggle causes low-performing children to experience anxiety, demoralization, and a loss of control.[72][73] This undermines performance.[72][73] The effect increases across the elementary and secondary school years.[73] The effect explains why the achievement gap increases over the school years.[74] The effect may explain why the achievement gap has resisted solution.[74]

Preschool education[edit]

Additionally, poor and minority students have disproportionately less access to high-quality early childhood education, which has been shown to have a strong impact on early learning and development. One study found that although black children are more likely to attend preschool than white children, they may experience lower-quality care.[75] The same study also found that Hispanic children in the U.S. are much less likely to attend preschool than white children. Another study conducted in Illinois in 2010[76] found that only one in three Latino parents could find a preschool slot for his or her child, compared to almost two thirds of other families.

Finally, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), families with modest incomes (less than $60,000) have the least access to preschool education.[77] Research suggests that dramatic increases in both enrollment and quality of prekindergarten programs would help to alleviate the school readiness gap and ensure that low-income and minority children begin school on even footing with their peers.[75]

General economic implications of the racial achievement gap[edit]

In addition to the moral and social justice arguments for closing the achievement gap, there are strong economic arguments for doing so. A 2009 report by the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company asserts that the persistence of the achievement gap in the U.S. has the economic effect of a “permanent national recession."[78] The report claims that if the achievement gap between black and Latino performance and white student performance had been narrowed, GDP in 2008 would have been $310 billion to $525 billion higher (2–4 percent).[78]

If the gap between low-income students and their peers had been narrowed, GDP in the same year would have been $400 billion to $670 billion higher (3–5 percent). In addition to the potential increase in GDP, the report projects that closing the achievement gap would lead to cost savings in areas outside of education, such as incarceration and healthcare. The link between low school performance and crime, low earnings and poor health has been echoed in academic research.[79][80]

Attempts at narrowing the racial achievement gap[edit]

Explanations for the achievement gap and concerns over its effects and even the existence of such a gap are widely contested. These explanations are also the source of much controversy, especially since efforts to "close the gap" have become some of the more politically prominent education reform issues. The issues that the achievement gap perpetuate also hold politically charged issues. For example, the cause of the Latino education crisis is not attributable to any single factor. It is likely the result of multiple variables—all of which can have an effect on one another—ranging from social, economic, and educational conditions to inadequate social services and families with exceptionally low human and social capital. The effects of the achievement gap in school can be seen later in life for students. For example, since schools often lack the resources to meet many students' most basic educational needs and since there are few entry level jobs that provide a living wage and benefits available to those without higher education or special skills in the economy, many are left at a disadvantage.[81] The following attempts have all been made in order to counteract the effects of the achievement gap at schools. They range from nationwide, government-led initiatives to smaller school-based initiatives.

Standards-based reform and No Child Left Behind[edit]

The federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 (NCLB) focuses on standardized test scores and school accountability to ensure that all students have the same educational opportunities. As written, the legislation incentivizes that schools show continual improvement toward this goal (otherwise known as "Adequate Yearly Progress," or AYP) otherwise schools face punishments, such as sanctions. This system has been criticized by some for being unfair toward schools that have the highest population of minority and poor students, as it is harder for these schools to meet the standards set by the No Child Left Behind Act, due to insufficient funding from either local, district, or state actors. This in turn leads to a cycle of underperformance and sanctions within these areas which furthers the problems that the Act meant to fix.[82]

In 2010, the Obama Administration instituted the Race to the Top (RTTT) program which provides financial incentives to states to produce measurable student gains. RTTT's primary goals are to improve student achievement, close achievement gaps, and improve high school graduation rates.[83] The goals of both programs has been to close the achievement gap, but the RTTT has been more focused on closing the gap between higher and lower performing schools rather than focusing on a national approach.[84] The major difference between the two educational reform programs is that RTTT is a competitive grant program that provides incentives for schools to change, while the NCLB Act mandated various changes in state and local education systems.[84] The RTTT's approach is more adaptable and focused as it allows for individual actions between schools, and is meant to encourage reform within schools without resorting to punishments, whereas the No Child Left Behind Act relies on punishments as its main form of promoting reform in schools.

Another attempt to standardize the education of students is the Common Core State Standards Initiative, also known as Common Core. The Common Core, created in 2009 and 2010, sets benchmarks for the skills that students should have by certain grade levels in subjects such as Math and Language Arts and the system itself is to meant to be a national baseline for how students are achieving. This baseline is meant to help establish what students need in order to achieve in higher education.[85] While the standards are meant to be nationwide, they have only been adopted by 35 states as it is not mandatory for states to subscribe to the Common Core unless they desire federal grants.[85][86] The Common Core Initiative has been criticized as it has not yielded any noticeable improvement in what has almost 10 years since it has been implemented, due to a multiple reasons, from incorrect implementation to content as the idea of a centralized system for education has been criticized for not taking the dynamic differences in learning-style into consideration.[87]

The newest addition to the growing list of government-led initiatives has been the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA. The ESSA, enacted in December 2015, is Congress's replacement for the NCLB. The ESSA takes notes from both the RTTT and the NCLB, by keeping the standardized testing of the NCLB while allowing for the flexibility of the RTTT. The ESSA gives states more say in how schools are held accountable, and how states can act to fix issues at their schools, and as such, states can set long-term goals instead of having to worry about year-to-year performance issues as with the NCLB.[88] States must still identify low performing schools and provide additional support, but now states can focus on long-term solutions. The new bill also focuses more on academic growth, which is subjective and does not always line up with a student's grade level, whereas the NCLB only cared whether students were performing to grade level.[89] By combining the standardized test requirements of the NCLB while allowing for more state control like in the RTTT, the ESSA hopes to achieve long-lasting success and reform.

Resources for poor school districts[edit]

Another explanation to address this educational gap is the lack of resources attainable by certain groups of students. A study found that there is a need for financial literacy for students enrolled in colleges and universities. Specifically, there is a need for student knowledge about loans, budgeting, and time requirements for degree completion.[90] Focus group results in the same study concluded that students in search of financial aid information believe that there will be a lack of understanding among advisors and staff regarding minority student's cultural/identity based circumstances. As a result of this belief, many students rather just not seek any services.

On the high school level, a report finds that the more people of color enrolled at any particular school, the less likely that the school offers any computer science courses whatsoever.[91] Nationwide economics indicate 1.3 million new jobs in the tech industry by 2022. Meanwhile, African Americans and Latinos only make up about 5 percent of the technical work force.[91]

Supplemental funding for targeted disadvantaged school districts in Ohio showed a reduction in performance gaps between disadvantaged districts and other districts. Supplementing state funds for the districts with higher amount of disadvantaged students produced benefits in the form of student achievement.[92] IDAs, or individual development account initiatives, introduced in the 1990s to address poverty, were based on the belief that poor families should have access to asset development in order to break the cycle of poverty.[93] As of now the main focus of most IDAs is on home ownership or starting small businesses. There has been a push for partnerships between community agencies and higher education institutions that would offer IDAs to encourage lower income individuals to turn towards higher education.[93]

School-based reform[edit]

Initiatives to close the achievement gap have been implemented at the school, district and state level in order to better address the issue. These include investments in pre-kindergarten programs, class size reduction, small schools, curricular reform, alignment of pre-kindergarten through college standards and expectations, and improved teacher education programs.[94] Many schools have started implementing after-school activities such as tutoring sessions, remedial programs, and rapid assessment programs. These programs are meant to help minority students learn at a more accelerated rate in order to help them catch up to their peers. Other schools have started de-tracking their students in order to provide the same quality education for all students, regardless of race. De-tracking not only allows for all students to be taught in the same way, but it also opens up new opportunities for students who would be put on a certain career path by their education.

Teacher-focused reform[edit]

Another focus of reform directed toward the achievement gap has been on teacher development, as research shows that since teachers are responsible for almost every aspect of a child's education within the bounds of a classroom. Therefore, in order to best address the achievement gap, reform efforts based on improved teaching are one of the main strategies used to address the gap. This reform effort has been both top-down, in the form of higher state standards for teacher education and preparation,[95] as well as bottom-up, through programs like Teach for America and AmeriCorps that aim to address educational inequity by recruiting and training teachers specifically to work in high-needs schools.[96][97]

Investment in early childhood[edit]

One strategy being used to address the achievement gap has been focusing on early childhood development. Economic research shows that investment at this stage is both more effective and cost effective than interventions later in a child's life.[98] By helping develop critical skills early on, these programs cut out the need for such intervention later on. Head Start and various state-funded pre-kindergarten programs target students from low-income families in an attempt to level the playing field for these children before school begins. In addition to increased access, there has also an increased national focus on raising quality standards for Head Start and state-funded pre-K programs, and in improving training and professional development for early care providers.[99]

There is substantial evidence pointing to early childhood development playing a huge role in closing the achievement gap: various studies, including the Carolina Abecedarian study, Child-Parent Center study, and HighScope Perry Preschool study, have shown that pre-K programs can have a positive and long-lasting impact on academic achievement of low-income and minority students.[100][101][102] Furthermore, the role of early childhood education and development has been tied to success even out of the classroom. Pre-K programs help students develop social, emotional, and critical thinking skills at a young age, and while none of this prevents the effects of poverty, it does help in dampening the effects while also better preparing student for their future.[103]

Narrowing the achievement gap through technology[edit]

Computer and technology use have been linked to increased student achievement. “When teachers and administrators make a sustained commitment to the use of computers in the classroom, student achievement increases (Mann & Shafer, 1997).[104] Randomized experiments demonstrate that the performance of low-achieving students can be improved by using technology that adjusts the level of difficulty of the books and math problems that are presented to each student, raises the probability that each student will achieve high scores on end-of-book reading comprehension quizzes and high accuracy scores on daily math assignments, raises the probability that each student can earn high letter grades, and creates a structured environment where each student is likely to receive regular, objective, positive feedback signaling that he or she is advancing on a daily basis, promoting high self-efficacy and a strong sense of control over academic outcomes.[105][106][107] This demonstrates that it is possible to increase engagement, effort and performance, even when the tasks presented to each student become progressively more difficult, if technology is used to individualize task difficulty and create a structure where it is possible for all students to achieve high reading comprehension and math accuracy scores on a regular basis.[74] A comparison of the cost-effectiveness of this approach indicates that it is more efficient than 22 other strategies for raising student achievement.[108]

Generally, those students who enrolled and finished online courses were older college students.[109][110][111][112] Also, these students have better chance to perform higher self-efficacy scores (Xie & Huang, 2014)[113] and future career ambitions or higher incomes (Carr, 2000; Park & Choi, 2009).[114][115] Studies shows that online learners are tend to less likely to make friends and become socialized (Varela et al., 2012),[116] while there's possible cause for example the experience of disappointing relationships in the context of education (Romero & Usart, 2014).[112] As Friedman (2007)[117] claimed that the world is flat, online education has made the education becomes more accessible for a wider range of students. But there's also some counterpoints of online education for example: lack of technical support (Palmer & Holt, 2010; Yang & Cornelius, 2014);[118] inadequate teacher support (Palmer & Holt, 2010);[118] feeling of isolation (Reilly, Gallagher-Lepak, & Killion, 2012; Tucker, 2014; Yang & Cornelius, 2004).[119][120][121]

Using technology as a tool for narrowing the achievement gap begins with a purpose, communication, listening, and collaboration. These skills can be achieved through the use of weblogs, social networking sites, feeds, and myriad other multimedia. In classrooms, students can communicate internally, or they can work side by side with others who are located thousands of miles away. Through the use of technology, presentations can be archived so that the material can be reviewed at any time. “All teachers could record important parts of what they do in the classroom that can then be archived to the class Weblog and used by students who may have missed the class or just want a refresher on what happened.” (Richardson, p. 117)[122]

Having access to information on the web gives students an advantage to learning. “Students at all levels show more interest in their work and their ability to locate and reflect upon their work is greatly enhanced as are the opportunities for collaborative learning” (Richardson, p. 28).[122] Weblogs are different from posts or comments; they require students to analyze and synthesize the content and communicate their understanding with the audience responses in mind.

Technology has been incorporated into the Standards. Even though the NCLB Act holds school districts accountable for student achievement, there are still many students who do not have the resources at home to fully take part in these excellent educational tools. Some teachers feel that technology is not the solution and see it as a risk. Therefore, technology is not always being used to its fullest potential by teachers and students do not gain the advantages technology offers. “Given the fact that the amount of information going online shows no sign of slowing, if they are unable to consistently collect potentially relevant information for their lives and careers and quickly discern what of that information is most useful, they will be at a disadvantage.” (Richardson, p. 73).[122]

According to the U.S. Census, by 2012, it is estimated that 70% of homes will have broadband access. While this is a large percentage, it still leaves 30% of households without internet access. The government has lent its hand in closing the Global Achievement Gap by granting funding for low-income school districts for programs such as one-on-one computing, however, the fact that many of these students do not have online capability at home is still a main issue. This digital divide may cause the achievement gap to increase as technology continues to become heavily integrated in the daily coursework for school children. Students need to have Internet access outside of school on a regular basis to successfully complete challenging courswork.

According to National Center for Education Statistics, it noted that African American 12th grade male students had the lowest reading scores among other racial and ethnic group. Reading gaps between African Americans and Whites have increased from 1992 to present (National Center for Education Statistics, 2016).[36] Tonsing-Meyer (2013)[123] claimed that the reading and writing practice was specified and emphasized in 85% of online course assignment, with activities attached, which might improve this situation.

Students who have problems with technology interfered are more likely to withdraw from their online courses (Bambara et al., 2009).[124] Also, there's no sufficient technology support which will also leads students to drop the class since their problems could not be solved quickly (Palmer & Holt, 2010; Yang & Cornelius, 2004).[118]

Students who were more focused and engaged themselves to the class tends to receive higher grades; their self-confidence can be gained through daily life use of Internet (Sahin & Shelley, 2008).[125] Male online learners had higher Internet self-efficacy than female, while they participated less in discussions (Chang et al., 2014; Ong & Lai, 2006).[126][127]

As Fletcher (2015)[128] indicated, possible factors that helped African American college students to gain academic success via online education might be: positive pre-college educational experiences, supportive environments in college campus, involving in campus activities, positive faculty interactions and support, same race/gender relationships with peers, family support, self-confidence, future career ambitions and the ability to face racism.

College environment[edit]

Students of color like African American students need a color-blind environment to support them reaching towards academic success better.[according to whom?] In this way they are more likely to gain self-confidence and educational resilience (Tucker, 2014).[120]

Effects of narrowing the racial achievement gap[edit]

Sociologists Christopher Jencks and Meredith Phillips have argued that narrowing the black-white test score gap "would do more to move [the United States] toward racial equality than any politically plausible alternative".[41] As already discussed, there is also strong evidence that narrowing the gap would have a significant positive economic and social impact.[78][129]

High-performing high-poverty and high-minority schools[edit]

Exceptions to the achievement gap exist[vague]. Schools that are majority black, even poor, can perform well above national norms, with Davidson Magnet School in Augusta, Georgia being a prominent example. Another school with remarkable gains for students of color is Amistad Academy in New Haven, Connecticut.Additionally North Star Academy has been awarded the National Blue Ribbon School for two years in a row. These schools offer more rigorous, traditional modes of instruction, including Direct Instruction. In one study, Direct Instruction was found to be the single most effective pedagogical method for raising the skill levels of inner-city students (Project Follow Through).[130]

High performing Black schools are not unique to the twentieth century. In Washington, DC in the late 19th century, a predominantly low income Black school performed higher than three White schools in yearly testing. This trend continued until the mid 20th century, and during that time the M Street School exceeded national norms on standardized tests.[131]

Gender achievement gap in the United States[edit]

For the past fifty years, there has been a gap in the educational achievement of males and females in the United States, but which gender has been disadvantaged has fluctuated over the years. In the 1970s and 1980s, data showed girls trailing behind boys in a variety of academic performance measures, specifically in test scores in math and science.[132]

Data in the last twenty years shows the general trend of girls outperforming boys in academic achievement in terms of class grades across all subjects and college graduation rates, but boys scoring higher on standardized tests and being better represented in the higher-paying and more prestigious STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math).[132] Male students consistently achieved worse school marks than female students from 1913 to 2011 in all countries for which there is data.[133]

Gender gap in literacy[edit]

Achievement gaps between boys and girls in the United States are more pronounced in reading and writing than in math and science.

Traditionally, girls have outperformed boys in reading and writing. Although this gap may be minimal in kindergarten, it grows as students continue their education. According to the 2004 National Reading Assessment measured by the US Department of Education, the gap between boys and girls, only slightly noticeable in 4th grade, left boys 14 points behind girls during their 12th grade year.[134] On the 2008 test, female students continued to have higher average reading scores than male students at all three ages. The gap between male and female 4th graders was 7 points in 2008. By 12th grade, there was an 11-point gap between males and females.[134]

On the 2002 National Writing Assessment, boys scored on average 17 points lower than girls in 4th grade. The average gap increased to 21 points by 8th grade and widened to 24 points by senior year in high school.[135] In the more recent 2007 National Assessment of Writing Skills, female students continued to score higher than male students, though margins closed slightly from previous assessments. The average score for female eighth-graders was 20 points higher than males, down 1 point from the 2002 score. For twelfth-graders, females outscored males by 18 points as opposed to 21 points in 2002.[136]

All of these assessments were conducted on a 100-point scale.[134][135][136]

Gender gap in math and science[edit]

Which gender is disadvantaged by the gap in math and science achievement largely depends on how academic achievement is being measured. Female students generally have better grades in their math classes, and this gap starts off very minimal but increases with age.[137][138] However, males score higher on standardized math tests, and these score gaps also increase with age. Male students also score higher on measures of college readiness, such as the AP Calculus exams and the math section of the SAT.[139]

The differences in National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) math scores between boys and girls nearly double from the 9-year-olds to the 17-year-olds.[137] This inconsistency in which gender shows more achievement could be due to the fact that class grades, especially in middle and high school, usually depend on a student's completion of homework assignments, and studies have shown that girls report spending more time on homework than boys.[140] The gender gap in mathematics is particularly large among the highest-achieving students; for example, there is a 2.1 to 1 male-female ratio among students who score an 800 on the math portion of the SAT.[141]

At least one study has challenged the existence of the gender gap in mathematics. In 2008 Janet Hyde and others published a study showing that male and female students did equally well on No Child Left Behind standardized tests that were administered in second through eleventh grades in ten states. However, Hyde and her team did find gaps that favored males at the upper end of the achievement distribution and tried to examine gaps on more difficult test questions (previous research has shown that males outperform females on more challenging items), but the tests they examined lacked adequately challenging items. This raised questions about whether there is still a gender gap in math achievement.[142]

There is also a large discrepancy between the number of men and women working in STEM fields. Women have been, and continue to be, underrepresented in these fields. This underrepresentation is evident in the distribution of college majors among men and women; from 1997 to 2007, women earned only 18% of engineering bachelor's degrees.[143]

Gender gap in degree attainment[edit]

(Issued August 2003) Educational attainment by race and gender: 2000[6]
Census 2000 Brief
Percent of Adults 25 and over in group
Men . . . . . . . . . . . . .               80.1 52.5 26.1 10.0
Women. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .    80.7 51.1 22.8  7.8
HS = high school completed SC = some college
BA = bachelor's degree AD = advanced degree

According to 2007 data, 55 percent of college students were females and 45 percent were males. From 1995 until 2005, the number of males enrolled in college increased by 18 percent, while the number of female students rose by 27 percent.[144] Males are enrolling in college in greater numbers than ever before, yet fewer than two-thirds of them are graduating with a bachelor's degree. The numbers of both men and women receiving a bachelor's degree have increased significantly, but the increasing rate of female college graduates exceeds the increasing rate for males.[145]

In 2014, the percentage of women with bachelor's degrees was higher than the percentage of men with bachelor's degrees for the first time in America.[146] Women also earn more master's degrees and doctorates than men.[147]

Gender gap in lifetime earnings[edit]

Although more women are graduating with undergraduate degrees, men are still earning disproportionately more in their lifetimes. This could be due to many factors, including different types of jobs for males and females. Females are greatly underrepresented in science and engineering fields, which are typically correlated with high lifetime earnings.[148] Males and females also have vastly different labor market histories based on type of job and time spent in each job.[143]

Possible causes[edit]

Teacher interactions[edit]

How a student interacts with and is evaluated by his or her teachers is closely correlated with that student's future academic achievement.[citation needed] According to researcher Thomas Good, there are two competing views of how teachers can indirectly impact the achievement of their students. The first is that teachers are more likely to give special attention and extra assistance to students who appear to be struggling in their class. In reading and writing classes, male students are often behind female students in terms of achievement. Therefore, male students are more likely to get more teacher attention, and this extra interaction could give males an advantage in terms of future achievement. The second view is that teachers demand more and show more respect toward students who they view to be high achievers, which creates a cycle in which only students who are perceived to be intelligent receive extra help and teacher attention.[149]

Teacher evaluations[edit]

How teachers perceive students’ knowledge and abilities varies by gender and influences classroom processes and student achievement in both reading and math. Teachers usually have higher expectations for students they view as higher achievers and treat these students with more respect.[149] A study by Tach and Farkas has also found that when students are split into reading groups based on their abilities, the students in the higher-ability reading groups are more likely to demonstrate positive learning behaviors and higher achievement.[150]

Teachers are more likely to favor girls when evaluating what types of readers students seem to be. Because studies have shown that teacher perceptions of students can determine how much individualized attention a student receives and can serve as an indicator of future academic progress, if teachers underestimate males’ reading abilities and use ability grouping in their classrooms, male students might be put at a disadvantage and have their learning in reading classes be negatively affected.[150][151] The opposite trend has been found in math classes. Teachers still tend to view math as a “masculine” subject and tend to have higher expectations for and better attitude towards their male students in these classes.[152]

A study by Fennema et al. has also shown that teachers tend to name males when asked to list their “best math students.”[153] Females are more likely than males to be negatively impacted than male students by this underestimation of their math abilities.[154] These gender-specific evaluations from teachers are implicit; usually the teachers have no idea that they are favoring one gender over the other until they are shown concrete evidence, such as a video recording of their classroom. However, even though the discrimination is implicit, it still has negative effects on both male and female students.[149]

There is conflicting evidence about whether teacher assessments of student performance and ability are consistent with cognitive assessments like standardized tests. Teacher assessment evidence comes from a relatively small number of classrooms when compared to standardized tests, which are administered in every public school in all fifty states.[155]


There is speculation that gender stereotyping within classrooms can also lead to differences in academic achievement and representation for female and male students. Math and science are often perceived as “masculine” subjects because they lead to success in “masculine” fields, such as medicine and engineering. English and history, on the other hand, are often perceived as “feminine” subjects because they are more closely aligned with “feminine” jobs, such as teaching or care work. These stereotypes can influence student achievement in these areas.[156]

Research on stereotype threat has shown that gender stereotypes decrease the mathematical self-esteem of many female students, and that this lack of academic confidence leads to anxiety and poorer performance on math exams.[157]

Parent socialization[edit]

How a child's parents view his or her skills can also contribute to the gender achievement gap in education. A study by Jacobs and Eccles has shown that adults rate female children as having better social skills than male children, and that girls are more likely to be seen as "good children" than boys.[158] These gender-based stereotypes can perpetuate the gender achievement gap in education by influencing parents' perceptions of their children's skills, and these perceptions can influence the types of activities and subjects parents steer their children toward.[158]

Socio-economic factors[edit]

The gender achievement gap, measured by standardized test scores, suspensions, and absences, in favor of female students, is larger at worse schools and among lower-income households. So poverty and school quality are partially responsible for the gap.[159]

Self-regulation and conscientiousness[edit]

Girls tend to have better self-regulation skills than boys.[why?] Self-regulation skills correlate with time spent on homework and time spent taking notes in class. This contributes to girls getting better grades than boys in all subjects.[160] See Sex differences in psychology.


The idea that one gender is on average inherently, genetically intellectually inferior is controversial and critics of the idea attribute it to historical or contemporary sexism.

Most researchers have argued for no significant sex differences in g factor or general intelligence,[161][162][163] while others have argued for greater intelligence for males,[163][164][165] and others for females.[165] These results depend on the methodology,[165] tests researchers used for their claims,[165] and the personal performances of the participants.[162]

Assuming there are real gender differences in general intelligence, it is difficult to answer the nature versus nurture question - whether any such differences are inherently genetic, or are caused by environmental factors. Differences in gender roles in a particular culture, as well as sexism, can influence a person's interests, opportunities, and activities in a way that might increase or decrease intellectual abilities for any particular task. For ethical and practical reasons, it is not generally feasible to perform an experiment that raises children without a gender identity or which randomly assigns a gender identity, to distinguish the effects of socialization from genetics.

Researchers concerned with the achievement gap between genders cite biological differences, such as brain structure and development, as a possible reason why one gender outperforms the other in certain subjects. For example, a Virginia Tech Study conducted in 2000 examined the brains of 508 children and found that different areas of the brain develop in a different sequence in girls compared to boys.[166]

The differing maturation speed of the brain between boys and girls affects how each gender processes information and could have implications for how they perform in school.[167]

Implications of the gender gap[edit]

It is important to address the gender achievement gap in education because failure to cultivate the academic talents of any one group will have aggregate negative consequences. If women are underrepresented in STEM fields, and if men are underrepresented in the social sciences and humanities, both genders are missing opportunities to develop diverse skill sets that can help them in the workplace.[156]

If the gender achievement gap in education continues to exist, so does the stereotype that medicine, science, and engineering are all “masculine” fields and that women belong in fields like teaching, counseling, or social work. This stereotype can lead to the image that women who pursue careers in the STEM fields are seen as “nerdy” or “geeky,” and this can have a detrimental effect on the self-esteem of females who do choose to enter these fields.[156]

Researchers have found that the gender achievement gap has a large impact on the future career choices of high-achieving students. Part of this is a result of the college majors that men and women choose; men are more likely to major in engineering or the hard sciences, while women are more likely to receive degrees in English, psychology, or sociology. Therefore, men are statistically more likely to enter careers that have more potential for higher long-term earnings than women.[143]

The careers that are aligned with these majors have different levels of prestige and different salaries, which can lead to a gender wage gap. U.S. Census data indicates that women who work full-time earn only 77% of what their male counterparts earn. For men and women who are ten years out of college, women earn only 69% of the salaries of their male workers.[143]

Attempts to reduce the gender gap[edit]

There have been several studies done of interventions aimed at reducing the gender achievement gap in science classes. Some interventions, such as instituting mentoring programs aimed at women or restructuring the course curriculum, have had limited success. The most successful interventions have been a form of psychological interventions called values affirmation. In a famous study of women's achievement in college science by Miyake et al., values affirmation was successful in reducing the differences between male and female academic achievement in college-level introductory physics classes, and it has been particularly effective at combating the psychological phenomenon known as stereotype threat.[168]

Values affirmation exercises require students to either write about their most important values or their least important values two times at the beginning of the 15-week course. After this intervention, the modal grades of women enrolled in the course increased from a C to a B. Psychological interventions such as this one show promise for increasing women's achievement in math and science courses and reducing the achievement gap that exists between the genders in these subject areas, but further research will need to be done in order to determine whether the positive effects are long-lasting.[168]

LGBT achievement gap[edit]

The LGBT achievement gap refers to the difference in academic performance and achievement between LGBT youth and their heterosexual peers. Historically, the circumstance of LGBT youth in education has received little attention from scholars and the media.[169] The term LGBT refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons but often is understood to encompass the sexual minority. Before the turn of the century, little research went into the topic of the LGBT population in schools. However, with the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network's (GLSEN) recurring study on school climate in the U.S. for LGBT students, there is now more information indicating the existence of an achievement gap. LGBT students in the U.S. tend to have lower GPAs than their heterosexual peers, as well as higher truancy and dropout rates. There are many supposed causes of this achievement gap, as well as efforts to alleviate the disparity.[170]

In United States secondary schools, LGBT youth often have more difficult experiences compared to their heterosexual peers, leading to observed underachievement, though current data is limited. In Massachusetts, LGBT youth are 12% less likely to make A and B grades than their heterosexual peers.[171] The GLSEN reports that 92.3% of LGBT youth report experienced harassment in 2011, compared to about 25% of the general youth population (as reported by the United States Department of Justice).[170][171][172] Among LGBT youth, those who endure more severe harassment report significantly lower GPAs than LGBT youth who endure less harassment (2.9 to 3.2, respectively). Less-harassed LGBT youth are also twice as likely to plan for higher education than their highly victimized peers, indicating a general lack of interest in school among LGBT youth.[170]

Dropping out and absenteeism are also concerns with LGBT youth. According to the National Education Association’s report on LGBT students, gay and bisexual students are almost twice as likely to consider dropping out as heterosexual students, and transgendered students are even more likely.[171] High instances of dropping out prevent LGBT students from pursuing higher education. Because most studies focus on students enrolled in school and it is hard to find a sample of student youth out of school, an accurate count of LGBT youth who have dropped out of school is hard to obtain.[170] While many LGBT students do not drop out, they often miss school because they feel unsafe. Nationwide, about 50% of students enduring severe verbal harassment, and 70% of students enduring severe physical harassment miss school once a month out of concern for their safety.[170] Studies in Massachusetts schools indicate that LGBT students are up to six times more likely than heterosexual students to miss school. Likewise, students in California who endure harassment "because of actual or perceived sexual orientation" are three times as likely as non-harassed heterosexual students to miss school, meaning even heterosexual students harassed for suspected sexual orientation endure some of these problems.[171]

Despite such evidence of negative experiences, some LGBT find positive benefits in coming out. Students who are out, while receiving increased harassment from homophobic peers, have lower instances of depression and a greater sense of belonging, a phenomenon well documented in other LGBT studies as well.[170][173]

Though popular belief attributes homosexuality to higher education levels, more current studies suggest otherwise, at least among women.[174] An extensive nationwide survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that, among women, LGBT identity is inversely related to education level, meaning that for every progressive education level, the percentage of women identifying as LGBT steadily decreases. For instance, while 6.7% of women with no high school diploma identify as lesbian, bisexual, or something else, only 2.9% of women with a bachelor's degree or higher identify that way. The same study showed no statistically significant correlation between LGBT identity and education for men.[175] Studies on LGBT students in college show that LGBT students, while not enduring the same harassment and struggles as LGBT youth in high schools, still have different experiences than their heterosexual peers, sometimes for the better: gay men in college have significantly higher GPAs and are more involved in extra-curricular activities than their heterosexual peers.[176] A study has in fact found a positive correlation between educational attainment and homosexuality and non-exclusive heterosexuality among men. In the study, gay men were significantly less likely to fail to graduate from high school compared to completely heterosexual men (3.94% vs. 9.91%) and were more likely to complete college (43.86% vs. 26.46%).[177] Lesbian and bisexual women, however, report being much less satisfied with their education than heterosexual women in college.[176][177]

Causes of the LGBT achievement gap[edit]

There are many possible explanations for the LGBT achievement gap. With extensive studies into the personal experiences of LGBT youth by the GLSEN, the Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and other organizations, some issues relevant to LGBT youth stand out as affecting academic outcomes.

The most highly documented and widely studied cause of underachievement by LGBT students is the problem of bullying in schools.[170][171] Out of students of any sexual identity who feel unsafe at school, 60% feel so because of their sexual orientation. More specifically, a bully's perception of a student's sexual orientation or gender-nonconformity—not necessarily the individual's actual sexual identity—leads to bullying. Because of this, a gender-nonconforming yet heterosexual student could experience some of the same academic outcomes attributed to the LGBT students.[171] 33% of LGBT students nationwide have skipped school at lease once in a single month for personal safety, and these students who have missed school are three times more likely to attempt suicide than those who have not missed school.[171]

In addition to their schooling experience, LGBT youth often have negative home environments. LGBT youth have a very unique situation in that the may not find any support from their family. Upon coming out to their parents, 50% of LGBT teens met a negative reaction.[171][178] Two studies indicate that approximately 30% of LGBT youth encountered physical violence and 26% were kicked out of the house. This risk is higher for transgender teens.[178] Because of these negative home environments, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, based on studies in Seattle, estimates that 40% of all homeless youth in the United States are LGBT, compared to roughly 3.5% of the general population.[178][179] In addition to these homeless youths’ higher risk for sexual violence, drug abuse, and prostitution, all of which would affect performance (or general attendance) in school, these youth may not be able to enroll in school at all. Some public schools are either reluctant to or ignorant about enrolling homeless students, significantly thwarting a teen's pursuit of educational opportunities.[171][178]

Proposed solutions to the LGBT achievement gap[edit]

Government-based as well as independent organizations focusing on education or LGBT issues have proposed solutions to improving the experiences of LGBT youth in schools. One such solution is the inclusion of LGBT-related subjects in a school's curriculum, shown to improve LGBT youths' performance in school. When surveyed, school personnel in California, Massachusetts, and Minnesota ranked lesson plans as the top need in addressing LGBT concerns.[171] The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States proposes including LGBT curriculum in school health and sex education classes. Their proposed curriculum would aim to teach students, over the course of their K-12 education, to understand sexual orientation as well as gender roles, and treat others with respect, among other key concepts.[180] However, many states in the U.S. including Alabama, Texas, Arizona, and others, have laws explicitly prohibiting the inclusion of homosexuality in education. Alabama and Texas laws even require teachers to refrain from presenting homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle. Significant opposition to changing these statutes exist in these states, preventing the inclusion of LGBT curriculum.[181]

The NEA recommends the inclusion of specific school policies protecting LGBT from harassment and bullying. LGBT students in Massachusetts who attend schools with safety policies explicitly regarding LGBT students are 3.5 times more likely to make A and B grades than LGBT youth in other schools.[171] Additionally, student organizations such as gay-straight alliances (GSAs) can improve the experience of LGBT youth in schools. Even when LGBT students don't participate in their school's GSA, the very presence of the organization can reduce threat and injury of LGBT students by one-third, and reduce LGBT suicide attempts by almost 50%. LGBT students in Massachusetts schools with GSAs were twice as likely to earn A and B grades than LGBT students in schools without GSAs.[171]

Gap of native-born behind immigrants[edit]

Educational attainment rates change when it comes to comparing the same races against immigrants or foreign born students. No matter which race is examined, immigrants of that race outperform natives of the same race. For example, Black African and Caribbean immigrant groups to the U.S report having higher levels of education than any other group.[182][failed verification] Of all foreign-born U.S. residents, foreign born Africans (those who come from the African continent) nowadays[when?] have a higher level of educational attainment than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States.[183][184] They tend to be highly educated and be fluent in English. This trend was first reported in the 1990s by the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education,[184] and still continues today.[when?][citation needed]

According to data from the 2000 United States Census, "43.8 percent of African immigrants had achieved a college degree, compared with 42.5 of Asian Americans, 28.9 percent of immigrants from Europe, Russia and Canada and 23.1 percent of the U.S. population as a whole."[185] The educational attainment amount varies by group. According to the U.S. Census, out of the African populations, Nigerians reported to having the highest level of education.[citation needed]


The amount of education completed varies greatly between members of religions in the United States. Hindus and Jews, for example, are more likely than general population to have completed a college education, whereas members of Evangelical churches, historically Black Protestant churches and Jehovah's Witness are less likely (21%, 15% and 12% respectively).[186]

US religions ranked by percentage reporting a college degree:[186]

Rank Name High school or less Some college College grad Post-grad Total college+
1 Hindu 12 11 29 48 77
2 Jewish 19 22 29 31 59
3 Buddhist 20 33 28 20 47
4 Atheist 26 31 26 16 43
5 Agnostic 23 36 25 16 42
6 Orthodox Christian 27 34 21 18 40
7 Muslim 36 25 23 17 39
8 Other faiths 29 38 - - 34
9 Mormon 27 40 23 10 33
10 Mainline Protestant 37 30 19 14 33
11 Other Christian 26 43 - - 31
12 Unaffiliated 38 32 18 11 29
General population 41 32 17 11 27
13 Catholic 46 27 16 10 26
14 Nothing in particular 45 32 15 9 24
15 Evangelical Protestant 43 35 14 7 21
16 Historically Black Protestant 52 33 9 6 15
17 Jehovah's Witnesses 63 25 9 3 12

Deaf vs. hearing[edit]

Educational attainment (U.S., 2015, adults 25-64)[187]
Group High school Some college Bachelor's Higher degree
Hearing 89% 63% 33% 12%
Deaf or hearing impaired with no additional disability 88% 56% 23% 8%
Deaf or hearing impaired with ambulatory disability 74% 41% 9% 4%
Deaf or hearing impaired and blind 72% 40% 11% 4%
Deaf or hearing impaired and cognitive disability 72% 38% 9% 3%
Deaf or hearing impaired and independent living difficulty 71% 36% 9% 3%

See also[edit]



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Further reading[edit]

  • Arrow, Kenneth; Bowles, Samuel; Durlauf, Steven, eds. (2000). Meritocracy and Economic Inequality. Princeton (NJ): Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-00468-6. Lay summary (September 29, 2010).CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Shapely, K.S., Sheehan, D., Maloney, C., & Caranikas-Walker, F. (2010). Evaluating the Implementation Fidelity of Technology Immersion and Its Relationship with Student Achievement. Journal of Technology, Learning, and Assessment
  • Yeh, Stuart S. (2017). Solving the Achievement Gap: Overcoming the Structure of School Inequality. New York: Palgrave.

External links[edit]