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The College-Town Achievement Gap

Persistent inequality plagues the places some prestigious universities call home. Are the higher-education institutions to blame?
relates to The College-Town Achievement Gap
Rebecca Cook/Reuters

Politically progressive university towns with racially integrated schools like Berkeley, California; Chapel Hill, North Carolina; and Ann Arbor, Michigan, might seem natural environments for black students to thrive. Each is home to a prestigious university with an activist, social justice-oriented school of education. Each school district has been a part of a network to promote equity for students of color. Each has a large community of well-educated African Americans.

Yet in a comprehensive analysis of the standardized-test scores in hundreds of districts nationwide, Berkeley and Chapel Hill have the widest and third-widest achievement gaps between black and white students. Even when controlling for socioeconomic disparities, the gaps remain: The 2016 study, conducted by researchers at Stanford, still placed Chapel Hill and Berkeley toward the top for test-score inequality. Ann Arbor for its part places among the 10 percent of districts with the widest racial achievement gaps, as do Evanston, Illinois; Oxford, Mississippi; and Charlottesville, Virginia—all homes to prominent universities.