It’s no secret that, as the Thernstroms point out, the education achieved by white students is nothing to write home about. In civics, math, reading, writing and geography, nearly a quarter of all students leave high school with academic skills that are “Below Basic.” In science, 47 percent leave high school with skills Below Basic, and in American history it’s 57 percent. Below Basic is the category the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) uses for students unable to display even partial mastery of knowledge and skills fundamental for proficient work at their grade level.
As dismal as these figures are, for black students it is magnitudes worse. According to NAEP findings, only in writing are less than 40 percent of black high school students Below Basic. In math, it’s 70 percent, and science 75 percent. Blacks completing high school perform a little worse than white eighth-graders in both reading and U.S. history, and a lot worse in math and geography.