Sen. Kamala Harris leaped upward in the polls by denouncing Joe Biden for opposing racial school busing in the 1970s, citing how she was bused in Berkeley as a child.
Harris has since doubled down on busing, stating:
I support busing. Listen, the schools of America are as segregated, if not more segregated today than when I was in elementary school. And we need to put every effort, including busing, into play to desegregate the schools….
Ironically, Harris’ old Berkeley school district has today, despite its high level of integration, the worst test-score racial gap in the United States, with its median black student testing at only the fifth percentile of its white students.
As I pointed out in my 2016 Taki’s column “Crevasses in the Classroom,” a vast database assembled by Sean Reardon of Stanford’s Center for Education Policy Analysis demonstrates that the biggest racial divides in school achievement are found in highly liberal districts. By Reardon’s measure, the school districts with the biggest white-black gaps in test scores are: Berkeley, Calif., Chapel Hill, N.C., Evanston, Ill., Asheville, N.C., Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Ga., and University City, Mo., all intensely Democratic.
In Berkeley, which voted for Hillary 90–3 over Trump, the average white public school sixth grader scores at a grade equivalent of 8.3, or 30 percent of his way through ninth grade. That’s 2.8 grade levels above the national average for sixth graders of all races of 5.5.
In the Stanford database, the national average sixth grader represents grade level 5.5: i.e., this typical student starts sixth grade at grade level 5.0 and ends sixth grade at 6.0, so on average while in sixth grade he is at 5.5.
Reardon’s new 2019 paper doesn’t appear to spell out the national averages by race anywhere, but I estimate from his data that the average Asian sixth grader in the U.S. scores at 7.1 grade level or +1.6 school years better than the national average of 5.5.
Nationally, whites average 6.3 grade levels or +0.8 years above the national average, Hispanics 4.5 or –1.0 years, and blacks 4.1 or –1.4 grade levels worse than the typical student.
Nationally, the white-black gap in sixth grade is 2.2 years (and the less often discussed Asian-black gap is 3.0 years). The typical white sixth grader has a knowledge level equivalent to a nationally average seventh grader, while the typical black is at the level of an average fifth grader.
In contrast, Berkeley’s black sixth graders average 4.7 grade levels worse than its whites, or 1.9 years below the average student in the U.S. Their 3.6 is a half year worse than the national black average. Despite what Senator Harris implies, smugly progressive Berkeley is bad at educating black children, both relatively and absolutely.
In general, highly liberal school districts, whether in college towns, woke suburbs, or big cities, are worse for racial equality.
For example, rich and leftist San Francisco (where Hillary won 84–10) combines big race divides (a white-black gap of 3.7 years) with weak test scores.
Amusingly, San Francisco is the opposite of Frisco, Tex., a sprawling Dallas exurb that has grown from 33,000 to 188,000 in this century. In contrast to highly gay San Francisco, Frisco, the weekday home to the Dallas Cowboys, has been called “the Best Place to Raise an Athlete.”
Ironically, while everybody in San Francisco hates when you call it by its unloved nickname “Frisco,” Republican-voting Frisco is much better at narrowing racial divides than is liberal San Francisco. Frisco has a white-black gap of only 1.4 years.
Frisco is San Francisco’s friendlier, less dysfunctional right-wing opposite. While San Francisco occupies perhaps the world’s most perfect spot for a city, Frisco is randomly plopped down on the prairie. San Francisco is an adult Disneyland with the lowest percentage of children of any city, while Frisco specializes in raising the next generation.
Frisco, which barely existed in 1990, now has 56,000 public school students, 48 percent white, 24 percent Asian, 14 percent Hispanic, and 11 percent black. This exurb 25 miles north of Dallas has, among school districts large enough to have reliable data, the nation’s highest black and Hispanic test scores.
Admittedly, Frisco is expensive by Texas standards, with the average house selling for about $400,000. In San Francisco, $400k might get you a corrugated metal shed in somebody’s backyard, but in Frisco it gets you 3,790 square feet.
White San Francisco public school sixth graders score 0.5 grade levels above the white national average, which is unimpressive considering the white population’s stratospheric wealth. (Seventy-five billionaires live in San Francisco, the highest per capita rate of any city in the world.)
One reason for the extreme mediocrity of San Francisco’s public schools is that about 30 percent of all children in San Francisco attend private schools. But causation also runs in the opposite direction. More San Francisco parents would presumably avail themselves of public schools if they weren’t so bad. In contrast, about 94 percent of Frisco children attend public schools.
San Francisco’s white kids average 0.8 grade levels below Frisco’s. They also trail whites in Houston and New York City.
San Francisco’s Asians score 1.1 grade levels worse than the national Asian average, 3.6 grades worse than Palo Alto’s Asians, and 0.8 grades below the Asians in the oft-derided Los Angeles public schools.
Likewise, San Francisco’s Hispanics score 0.9 grades below the national Hispanic norm, worse than their peers even in Oakland, San Bernardino, and Cicero, Ill.
Finally, San Francisco’s blacks score 1.0 grade levels below the national black average, worse even than blacks in Baltimore, Oakland, St. Louis, Buffalo, Cleveland, and…Detroit. For black performance, San Francisco beats only Rochester, Milwaukee, and Syracuse.
Yet, Richard Carranza, who was San Francisco’s superintendent of schools during some of the 2009–2013 years that Reardon measures, failed upward into the top jobs in Houston and now New York City, where Carranza tirelessly indoctrinates students and teachers in antiwhite hate.
In contrast to San Francisco, Frisco leads the country’s medium-size school districts in test scores for both blacks and Hispanics, with both averaging 2.1 grade levels above their respective groups’ national means. Frisco’s Asians are at +1.4 and whites at +1.3 versus their national racial averages.
Although Trump, the ultimate New Yorker, is not personally popular in Texas, he won easily over Hillary in Frisco.
It appears to be a general pattern that blacks achieve less in school in highly Democratic places, whether poor or rich. Anechoic Media’s analysis of the Stanford database found that:
Black students in counties that voted Trump significantly overperform their [socioeconomic status] baseline. Going from a strong blue county, to a strong red county increases expected district black NAEP score by an effect roughly similar to a ~3.17 percentage point reduction in black poverty.
It would be well worth researching whether this pattern of blacks doing slightly better in conservative places is purely a selection effect (presumably, blacks who move to whiter regions like Frisco are more in tune with pro-social white values), or whether it’s also a treatment effect. Perhaps Republican school districts tend to provide more of what blacks need, such as, say, discipline?
Progressivism isn’t optimized for blacks. For example, black parents in Berkeley have protested against the school system’s addiction to progressive schooling fads that appeal to white parents who are Berkeley professors or trust-funders. Black parents have instead asked for more 3-Rs fundamentals for their kids. (Asian tiger mothers tend to avoid Berkeley public schools, seeing them as too hippy-dippy to improve their children’s chances of getting into UC Berkeley.)
Professor Reardon has now published his own paper on his 2016 database. In “The Geography of Racial/Ethnic Test Score Gaps,” he attempts to come up with politically acceptable explanations for why whites outscore blacks in every single one of the more than 2,000 school districts in the United States for which there are enough students of both races to come up with a statistically reliable estimate of the gap.
The only two sizable school districts in the country where the white-black gap is small are Detroit and Clayton County, Ga., which is out by the Atlanta airport. Detroit’s whites, who make up only 2 percent of the students, score poorly (3.0 grades below the white average) because they are abandoned left-behinds, and that’s increasingly true of the whites stuck in Clayton County, who have declined from 91 percent of the population in 1980 to 10 percent today.
Reardon sums up:
In other words, there is no school district in the United States that serves a moderately large number of black or Hispanic students in which achievement is even moderately high and achievement gaps are near zero.
Occam’s Razor would suggest that this near-universal racial pattern has something to do with, you know, race, with who your parents and grandparents were and the nature and nurture they gave you.
But Professor Reardon is aghast at Occam’s suggestion:
That is, unless one posits large innate racial differences in academic potential (a position supported by no credible theory or evidence; for a review, see Nisbett et al. ), differences in average test scores must be understood to represent local racial differences in the average availability of opportunities to learn the tested material.
And hence he wields Occam’s Butter Knife to come up with a complex, if still admittedly incomplete, rationalization.
First, though, Reardon admits it’s not because black and Hispanic students are short of tax spending on their schooling:
As a result of state school financing reforms enacted by state legislatures or ordered by courts, per-pupil revenues are now modestly positively correlated with districts’ enrollment rates of poor and minority students within most states (Cornman 2015). This means that in most states—conventional wisdom notwithstanding—poor and minority students are enrolled in districts with higher per pupil spending than white and middle-class students….
Second, while socioeconomic status likely contributes to racial gaps, the Stanford database includes a few hundred locales where blacks appear to be better off on average than whites:
For white-black gaps, nearly 11% of districts (with 7% of the black public school population) have racial/ethnic socioeconomic disparities that are less than or equal to zero (though many of these districts are small or have small numbers of black families, so that their white-black SES differences are imprecisely estimated).
And yet there are no districts in which blacks outscore whites.
Another pattern Reardon observes is that racial gaps are largest not in poor, backwoods districts rife with racism, but in wealthy, sophisticated school districts.
This has long been known as the Shaker Heights Effect, after the liberal Cleveland suburb that is home to numerous affluent families, black and white, but in which the white-black gap is a full four grade levels.
Reardon tries blaming Stereotype Threat:
Another possibility is that social psychological processes that inhibit minority students’ performance, such as stereotype threat, are particularly strong in the most affluent places where academic performance is seen as a particularly important marker of intelligence and success and where minority students often make up only a small share of school district enrollment (Steele 1997).
Perhaps Frisco’s sports-obsessed culture is better for blacks and Mexicans than San Francisco’s more leftist one?
But overall, Occam’s Razor would suggest that the bigger race gaps seen in rich districts are because rich districts attract smarter white people, while there just aren’t many high-scoring black or Hispanic districts, or, for that matter, many high-scoring black or Hispanic students to go around (and many of them get scholarships to private schools and therefore disappear from the Stanford database).
Moreover, regression toward the mean is always a factor in human affairs. High-scoring black and Hispanic families tend to regress over the generations to a lower mean than do high-scoring Asian and white families.
The top average white students in any school district are in Evanston, Ill., at 9.8 (i.e., the average white Evanston sixth grader achieves like the typical student finishing tenth grade), 4.3 grades about the national average (all races). The top-scoring big school district with lots of whites is Montgomery County in Maryland, with whites averaging 8.0, 2.5 grade levels above the overall average.
America’s basic racial problem is that there just aren’t all that many high-performing blacks.
For blacks, Frisco is the top medium-size district at 6.2, +0.7 nationally. The highest-scoring school district with lots of blacks is suburban Gwinnett outside of Atlanta, Newt Gingrich’s old Congressional district, where black students are at the national average of 5.5 and thus 1.4 grades above their racial average. For a city, the best black students are in Virginia Beach and Boston, both at 4.8, –0.7 versus the national average.
Similarly, while Frisco’s Hispanics are 1.1 grades above the national average, the highest-scoring large Hispanic district is Broward County, Fla. (suburban Miami centering around Fort Lauderdale) at 6.0, +0.5 grades above the national average. The top big-city Hispanic population is Dade County (Miami) at 5.7, +0.2. Miami is famous for its Hispanics being Cuban and other whitish Latin American ethnicities.
The highest-scoring Mexican-American city at 5.2 (–0.3) is El Paso, which has a fairly unique culture populated in large part by descendants of middle-class refugees fleeing the Mexican Revolution of a century ago.
In general, among assimilated Hispanics, the whiter the population, the higher the scoring, with mestizos in the middle, and mulattos toward the bottom.
On the other hand, the U.S. is constantly getting new influxes of unassimilated mestizos to work in low-end service jobs, so the biggest white-Hispanic gap is in ritzy Santa Barbara (4.2 grade levels), followed by D.C., Atlanta, Minneapolis, and other wealthy spots attracting illegal immigrants.
Moreover, the highest-scoring populations are Asian, and Reardon really doesn’t want to talk about Asians.
Reardon’s database shows the distinction between what comedienne Ali Wong calls Fancy Asians versus Jungle Asians. In Cupertino in Silicon Valley, Asian (largely Chinese) sixth graders score like tenth graders, but in St. Paul, Asians (largely Hmong) score like fifth graders.
Eventually, Reardon settles upon “segregation” as his main excuse for race gaps. I’m seeing more and more that social scientists have taken to using “segregation” as a euphemism for “black.” E.g., the reason place X, which is 90 percent black, is doing worse than Place Y, which is 10 percent black, is “segregation.”
For instance, Stanford economist Raj Chetty often uses the word “segregation” to distract from his results, which are of course largely driven by race.
In turn, this subterfuge encourages politicians like Kamala Harris to demand more school busing to fight “segregation.”
“Segregation” is a euphemism for quality of black parents—can they put together the effort and resources to get their children away from the worst black parents’ children?
Reardon quickly goes on to admit that he’s using “segregation” as a proxy for worse students:
This suggests that racial isolation, per se, is not the causal factor linking segregation to worse outcomes for minority students. Rather, racial isolation is correlated with other negative conditions such as exposure to more low-income peers, more crime, fewer positive role models, schools with fewer resources, and so forth.
In modern America, the worst thing about being poor is not that you can’t afford to buy enough stuff, it’s that you can’t afford to get away from other poor people.
One way to test the current obsession with “segregation” would be to look at the performance of black students in the small number of neighborhoods where bourgeois blacks choose to live in all-black communities.
My final observation from looking through Reardon’s trove of data is that it will be hard for ambitious politicians like Harris to hunt down enough white kids to bus to black and brown schools to make any kind of difference. There just aren’t many centrally located school districts left in America with large numbers of white students.
Due to busing, crime, and the like since the 1960s, America now has a white family diaspora.
For example, Los Angeles public schools used to have a huge number of high-IQ Ashkenazi Jewish students in its San Fernando Valley. But racial busing in the late 1970s put Jewish students to flight: to newly formed private Jewish schools, over a second mountain range to the Las Virgenes school district, or all the way to Portland. During a Harris administration, rounding up their descendants to bus them to South-Central would be even harder than in 1979.
Despite what Senator Harris says, America is running out of white children to exploit in the name of solving the problems of its burgeoning nonwhites. Busing may be back, but white kids aren’t.
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