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Report: America's most progressive cities — like San Francisco and Seattle — have the largest racial gaps in student achievement
Photo by Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Report: America's most progressive cities — like San Francisco and Seattle — have the largest racial gaps in student achievement

'Progressive cities are failing to prepare students for their future'

A new study has found that America's most progressive cities — like San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. — have the largest racial gaps in student achievement and graduation rates, while some of America's most conservative cities are leading the way in racial educational equity.

The study, "The Secret Shame: How America's Most Progressive Cities Betray Their Commitment to Educational Opportunity for All," was conducted by Brightbeam, a nonprofit network of education activists. It set out to analyze the conundrum experienced in many of America's cities; which is that despite economic prosperity, the problem gaps in educational outcomes come along racial lines.

What researchers found was that "students in America's most progressive cities face greater racial inequity in achievement and graduation rates than students living in the nation's most conservative cities." The study even says that they "tried to explain [the findings] away, but [they] couldn't."

Here are some findings highlighted in the study that came as a shock to researchers:

Progressive cities, on average, have achievement gaps in math and reading that are 15 and 13 percentage points higher than in conservative cities, respectively.

In San Francisco, for example, 70% of white students are proficient in math, compared to only 12% of black students reaching proficiency — a 58-point gap.

In Washington, D.C., 83% of white students scored proficient in reading compared to 23 percent of black students — a 60-point gap.

In contrast, three of the 12 most conservative cities — Virginia Beach, Anaheim and Fort Worth — have effectively closed or even erased the gap in at least one of the academic categories we examined.

In order to come to these data points, researchers relied on criteria developed independently by political scientists to rank America's biggest cities in terms of conservatism. Then they selected the 12 most progressive and the 12 most conservative cities from the list, and analyzed each city's publicly available achievement and graduation data.

Speaking with NBC News, Brightbeam CEO Chris Stewart said the results are hard to believe.

"In the cities that have the most resources, and frankly the most places where the kids really need help, we have done outstandingly bad. Not just bad results, but results that defy the imagination of what you'd expect for a place like San Francisco, where they have so many resources it boggles the mind," Stewart said.

"Places like San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis — which boast a very strong economy and very strong levels of education for white kids — are doing so poorly for kids at the bottom of the well," he added.

"D.C. shocked me," he said, noting that the U.S. capital has a 62-point gap between black and white students in math proficiency rates, the highest disparity among the cities analyzed.

"It was the most shocking of all. l always considered D.C. a good black city with strong black political power. But it's changed. The gaps between education, wealth, home ownership ... are outstanding."

San Francisco (58 points difference), Minneapolis (53) and Oakland, California (51) round out the top four progressive cities with the largest gaps, NBC News noted, and the achievement disparity between Latino and white students was not much better.

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