Teachers College Symposium Exposes Social Costs of
Rangel, US House of Rep.
Rebell, Director CFE
At Teachers College’s recent symposium, “The Social
Costs of Inadequate Education,” a panel of education
experts convened to discuss the results of a 1972 study on
the subject. Moderated by Darlyne Bailey, Vice President for
Academic Affairs and Dean of Teachers College, the panel consisted
of Professor Henry M. Levin and Richard Rothstein (both of
Teachers College) and discussant J. Douglas Williams, from
the University of New Brunswick in Canada.
The report, entitled “The Cost to the Nation of Inadequate
Education,” analyzes what occurred economically in a
group of African-American males between the ages of 25 and
34 and also assesses other elements like crime rates and participation
in public assistance and the labor force. The study initially
garnered attention after its 1972 release but became less and
less prominent with the increasing political visibility of
the Vietnam War.
In his report, “Dimensions of Educational Inequality
Across Races,” Rothstein, a Tisch Professor and Research
Associate at the Economic Policy Institute of Teachers College,
took a closer look at a varied cross section of racial and
ethnic groups and the many effects poor education had on differing
aspects of their lives. For his presentation, Rothstein chose
to focus on the differences between African-Americans and whites.
The results of the report are staggering. On average, 4/5
of white students test better than African-American students.
But the differences begin much earlier: in fact, they start
in the womb. About 25 percent of black mothers fail to receive
any prenatal care while 11 percent of White mothers do not
get prenatal healthcare. There is also a major disparity between
the races on healthcare. 14 percent of African-American children
ages 18 and younger are without health insurance. Half as many
white children in the same age group go without insurance.
Rothstein noted that in a California study, experts found one
doctor for ever 4,000 residents in one poverty-stricken major
urban area. In addition, black children are more likely to
enter school suffering from problems with vision and anemia.
In fact, iron deficiency anemia is more prevalent in black
children under 5 at a rate of 19 percent than in white children
at 10 percent.
The differences continue through preschool. Many preschoolers
watch TV instead of playing, which diminishes the development
of hand/eye coordination. According to the study, 40 percent
of African-American children watch more than 6 hours of television
a day while only 13 percent of White children do the same.
However, when it comes to providing their children with non-school
experience, Black and White parents break even; 74 percent
of White parents and 70 percent of Black parents tell stories,
play games and sports, do puzzles and visit museums with their
Later on in life at the high school level, 3/4 of Black students
receive their high school diplomas while 84 percent of Whites
graduate. If they go on to employment, African-Americans only
make 76 percent of what Whites do. Overall, the average Black
adult has earnings at 41 percent of the national distribution.
The typical White adult has earnings at 54 percent of the national
J. Douglas Williams
subsequently discussed the role that education plays in inequity
across racial groups. “The extent of
inequality is greatest in the academic domain,” he said.
Since language development is one of the biggest precursors
to school readiness, Williams turned his focus to literacy. “Students
make the transition from learning to read to reading to learn
around the end of the second grade or the beginning of the
third grade. If this doesn’t happen, you end up with
struggling readers,” he says. Indeed, there is actually
a mathematical formula that calculates the number of words
a child should know by a certain age. If you subtract 12 from
the child’s age in months, square that number and double
the result, you will know how many words s/he knows.
But language is not
the only indicator of development. Experts also consider
how much general knowledge a child has, the social and cognitive
skills they possess, and their physical ability. “Kids
who start low tend to stay low,” said Williams. “We
can identify who needs intervention early on without failing
kids.” He says this is possible by looking less at percentages
and more at the levels of outcomes. Students can be grouped
by ability to get the help they need in order to achieve balance.
“The issue of educational equity is a moral issue. It
is an issue of justice, and it’s an issue of fairness.
It’s important not to lose sight of that. We have a moral
obligation to fairness and justice,” concluded Levin. “The
one thing we have to be careful of is the suppression of information
that may not necessarily translate into immediate action.”#