More than 50 years after Brown v. Board, African American students continue to trail their White peers on a variety of important educational indicators. In this article, the authors investigate the political foundations of the racial “achievement gap” in American education. Using variation in high school graduation rates across the states, the authors first assess whether state policymakers are attentive to the educational needs of struggling African American students.
The authors find evidence that state policymaking attention to teacher quality—an issue education research shows is essential to improving schooling outcomes for racial minority students—is highly responsive to low graduation rates among White students, but bears no relationship to low graduation rates among African American students.
The authors then probe a possible mechanism behind this unequal responsiveness by examining the factors that motivate White public opinion about education reform and find racial influences there as well. Taken together, the authors uncover evidence that the persisting achievement gap between White and African American students has distinctively political foundations.