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Historical Perspectives on Racial Differences in Schooling in the United States

William Collins and Robert Margo

Chapter 03 in Handbook of the Economics of Education, 2006, vol. 1, pp 107-154 from Elsevier

Abstract: In this chapter we present an overview of the history of racial differences in schooling in the United States. We present basic data on literacy, school attendance, educational attainment, various measures of school quality, and the returns to schooling. Then, in the context of a simple model of schooling attainment, we interpret the fundamental trends in an "analytic narrative" that illuminates change over time. Although some of the data presented in the tables carry the story to the late twentieth century, the evidence and narrative we develop focus on the period before 1954, the year of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. A theme of convergence is central to the narrative. Slaves were typically forbidden to learn how to read and write, and others were typically forbidden to teach them. Just after the Civil War, more than 80 percent of African Americans over the age of nine were illiterate (compared to 12 percent of whites). After Emancipation, black children continued to face many obstacles in acquiring education. In addition to their relative poverty and their parents' relatively low levels of literacy (on average), society and its educational institutions were overtly racist. The negative implications for black children's schooling were significant and lasted well into the twentieth century. Nonetheless, successive generations of black children did manage to narrow the racial gap in schooling and educational attainment. By 1930, only 12 percent of African Americans were illiterate - finally attaining the level that whites had registered 60 years earlier. The pace of change was not constant, however, and there were some periods of short-run divergence between blacks and whites in educational attainment. The long-term process of convergence, moreover, has yet to fully run its course, and the remaining racial gaps in schooling have proven quite stubborn to eliminate.

Keywords: slavery; literacy; education; Brown v. Board; discrimination (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: I2 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2006
ISBN: 978-0-444-51399-1
References: Add references at CitEc
Citations: View citations in EconPapers (12) Track citations by RSS feed

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