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Jordan Weissmann tackles Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s statement in her majority opinion in the 2003 case Grutter v. Bollinger that affirmative action policies instituted today would ensure that affirmative action would not be needed within 25 years.
Weissmann points to a paper by Krueger, Rothstein, and Turner which assessed whether or not decreasing income gaps and test score gaps could bring us to a point 25 years down the road in which blacks were as meritorious as whites. They found that if then-current trends continued, blacks would still rely greatly on affirmative action to gain access to highly selective universities. O’Connor’s statement was overly confident.
Krueger et al wrote in a summary of their full paper:
The last 25 years saw two distinct regimes, with rapidly closing black–white gaps in the first period and a widening gap since 1990. To extrapolate a linear trend a full quarter century into the future is to assume a dramatic turnaround from recent patterns and sustained growth over a long period. On the other hand, if we could somehow return to and sustain the rapid rate of progress seen in the 1980s, the future will be brighter than even our optimistic forecasts indicate.
As we can see, SAT score gaps between blacks and whites have not closed.
NAEP gaps haven’t closed much either since Krueger et al conducted their research. The NAEP serves as a different measure than the SAT. It is a test largely for administrative consumption. Students don’t care that much about the test; while they are “taught to the test” they probably don’t try to game it because it won’t improve their chances of advancing to the next level. It largely nullifies the supposed impact of test prep services that benefit white SAT scores (stress supposed because there is evidence that black students use test prep more than white students do).
But the NAEP math white-black math gap for 17-year-olds has largely sustained. In 1999 whites scored 31 points higher than blacks; in 2004 whites scored 27 points higher; in 2008 whites scored 26 points higher. In reading, the gap was 31 in 1999, 27 in 2004, and 29 in 2008. And over a longer term, ~ 20-25 years, the gap still sustains. In math, the gap was 29 points in 1986. That’s a three point decline over 22 years. In reading, the gap was 32 points in 1984. That’s a three point decline over 24 years.