Implications of the Achievement Gap

Economic outcomes
The racial achievement gap has consequences on the life outcomes of minority students. However, this gap also has the potential for negative implications for American society as a whole, especially in terms of workforce quality and the competitiveness of the American economy. As the economy has become more globalized and the United States' economy has shifted away from manufacturing and towards a knowledge-based economy; education has become an increasingly important determinate of economic success and prosperity. A strong education is now essential for preparing and training the future workforce that is able to compete in the global economy. Education is also important for attaining jobs and a stable career, which is critical for breaking the cycle of poverty and securing a sound economic future, both individually and as a nation. Students with lower achievement are more likely to drop out of high school, entering the workforce with minimal training and skills, and subsequently earning substantially less than those with more education. Therefore, eliminating the racial achievement gap and improving the achievement of minority students will help eliminate economic disparities and ensure that America's future workforce is well prepared to be productive and competitive citizens.

Reducing the racial achievement gap is especially important because the United States is becoming an increasingly diverse country. The percentage of African-American and Hispanic students in school is increasing: in 1970, African-Americans and Hispanics made up 15% of the school-age population, and that number had increased to 30% by 2000. It is expected that minority students will represent the majority of school enrollments by 2015. Minorities make up a growing share of America's future workforce; therefore, the United States' economic competitiveness depends heavily on closing the racial achievement gap.

The racial achievement gap affects the volume and quality of human capital, which is also reflected through calculations of GDP. The cost of racial achievement gap accounts for 2-4 percent of the 2008 GDP. This percentage is likely to increase as blacks and Hispanics continue to comprise a higher proportion of the population and workforce. Furthermore, it was estimated that $310 billion would be added to the US economy by 2020 if minority students graduated at the same rate as white students. Even more substantial is the narrowing of educational achievement levels in the US compared to those of higher-achieving nations, such as Finland and Korea. McKinsey & Company estimate a $1.3 trillion to $2.3 trillion, or a 9 to 16 percent difference in GDP. Furthermore, if high school dropouts were to cut in half, over $45 billion would be added in savings and additional revenue. In a single high school class, halving the dropout rate would be able to support over 54,000 new jobs, and increase GDP by as much as $9.6 billion. Overall, the cost of high school drop outs on the US economy is roughly $355 billion.

$3.7 billion would be saved on community college remediation costs and lost earnings if all high school students were ready for college. Furthermore, if high school graduation rates for males raised by 5 percent, cutting back on crime spending and increasing earnings each year would lead to an $8 billion increase the US economy.

Job opportunities
As the United States' economy has moved towards a globalized knowledge-based economy, education has become even more important for attaining jobs and a stable career, which is critical for breaking the cycle of poverty and securing a sound economic future. The racial achievement gap can hinder job attainment and social mobility for minority students. The United States Census Bureau reported $62,545 as the median income of White families, $38,409 of Black families, and $39,730 for Hispanic families. And while the median income of Asian families is $75,027, the number of people working in these households is usually greater than that in White American families. The difference in income levels relate highly to educational opportunities between various groups. Students who drop out of high school as a result of the racial achievement gap demonstrate difficulty in the job market. The median income of young adults who do not finish high school is about $21,000, compared to the $30,000 of those who have at least earned a high school credential. This translates into a difference of $630,000 in the course of a lifetime. Students who are not accepted or decide not to attend college as a result of the racial achievement gap may forgo over $450,000 in lifetime earnings had they earned a Bachelor of Arts degree. In 2009, $36,000 was the median income for those with an associate degree was, $45,000 for those with a bachelor's degree, $60,000 for those with a master's degree or higher.

Stereotype threat
Beyond differences in earnings, minority students also experience stereotype threat that negatively affects performance through activation of salient racial stereotypes. The stereotype threat both perpetuates and is caused by the achievement gap. Furthermore, students of low academic performance demonstrate low expectations for themselves and self-handicapping tendencies. Psychologists Claude Steele, Joshua Aronson, and Steven Spencer, have found that Microaggression such as passing reminders that someone belongs to one group or another (i.e.: a group stereotyped as inferior in academics) can affect test performance.

Steele, Aronson and Spencer, have examined and performed experiments to see how stereotypes can threaten how students evaluate themselves, which then alters academic identity and intellectual performance. Steele tested the stereotype threat theory by giving Black and White college students a half-hour test using difficult questions from the verbal Graduate Record Examination (GRE). In the stereotype-threat condition, they told students the test diagnosed intellectual ability. In saying that the test diagnoses intellectual ability it can potentially elicit the stereotype that Blacks are less intelligent than Whites. In the no-stereotype-threat condition, they told students that the test was a problem-solving lab task that said nothing about ability. This made stereotypes irrelevant. In the stereotype threat condition, Blacks who were evenly matched with Whites in their group by SAT scores, performed worse compared to their White counterpart. While in the experiments with no stereotype threat, Blacks performed equally as well as Whites.

Steele, Aronson, and Spenser acknowledge that test-score gaps probably can't be totally attributed to stereotype threat. However, the findings undercut the tendency to lay the blame on unsupported genetic and cultural factors, such as whether African Americans "value" education. Aronson believes the study of stereotype threat offers some "exciting and encouraging answers to these old questions [of achievement gaps] by looking at the psychology of stigma -- the way human beings respond to negative stereotypes about their racial or gender group."

Political representation
Another consequence of the racial achievement gap can be seen in the lack of representation of minority groups in public office. Studies have shown that higher socioeconomic status--in terms of income, occupation, and/or educational attainment--is correlated with higher participation in politics. This participation is defined as "individual or collective action at the national or local level that supports or opposes state structures, authorities, and/or decisions regarding allocation of public goods"; this action ranges from engaging in activities such as voting in elections to running for public office.

Since median income per capita for minority groups is lower than that of White Americans, and since minority groups are more likely to occupy less gainful employment and achieve lower education levels, there is a lowered likelihood of political participation among minority groups. Education attainment has been proven to dictate income and occupation. And there is a proven disparity between educational attainment of White Americans and minority groups, with only 30% of bachelor's degrees awarded in 2009 to minority groups. Thus socioeconomic status--and therefore political participation--is correlated with race. Research has shown that African Americans, Latino Americans, and Asian Americans are less politically active, by varying degrees, than White Americans.

A consequence of underrepresentation of minority groups in leadership is incongruence between policy and community needs. A study conducted by Kenneth J. Meier and Robert E. England of 82 of the largest urban school districts in the United States showed that African American membership on the school board of these districts led to more policies encouraging more African American inclusion in policy considerations. It has been shown that both passive and active representation of minority groups serves to align constituent policy preference and representation of these opinions, and thereby facilitate political empowerment of these groups.

Special programs
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. Research shows that these disproportionate enrollment trends may be a consequence of the differences in educational achievement among groups.