The Politics of Achievement Gaps: U.S. Public Opinion on Race-Based and Wealth-Based Differences in Test Scores

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Educational Researcher
August 11, 2016

Jon Valant, Tulane University
Daniel A. Newark, University of Southern Denmark


For decades, researchers have documented large differences in average test scores between minority and White students and between poor and wealthy students. These gaps are a focal point of reformers’ and policymakers’ efforts to address educational inequities. However, the U.S. public’s views on achievement gaps have received little attention from researchers, despite playing an important role in shaping policymakers’ behaviors. Drawing on randomized experiments with a nationally representative sample of adults, we explore the public’s beliefs about test score gaps and its support for gap-closing initiatives. We find that Americans are more concerned about—and more supportive of proposals to close— wealth-based achievement gaps than Black-White or Hispanic-White gaps. Americans also explain the causes of wealthbased gaps more readily.

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