Racial Achievement Gaps within Income Categories: Historical Trends and Gap Development in a Single Birth Cohort
Jordan Conwell

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Northwestern University

Primary Discipline

Education research has recently drawn attention to growing income achievement gaps in the United States. For cohorts of students born between the 1940s and 1960s, the black-white achievement gap was larger than the achievement gap between children whose families were at the 90th and 10th the percentiles of the income distribution. But, for cohorts born in the 1970s and later, the income gap has become larger than the black-white gap (Reardon 2011). Similarly, among the cohort of students who entered kindergarten in 1998, the fifth grade achievement gap between the top and bottom income quintiles was larger than both the black-white and Hispanic-white gaps (Duncan and Magnuson 2011). However, income achievement gap research has not investigated possible remaining racial achievement gaps within income groups. It has therefore not engaged with other research that finds that, across the range of income categories, there are still remaining educational inequalities between white, black, Hispanic, and Asian students within each income category (e.g., Massey and Brodmann 2014). In my dissertation, I will use six nationally-representative datasets to uncover 1) whether and how racial achievement gaps within income categories have changed across cohorts of high school students from 1960 to 2012 and 2) whether and how they developed from kindergarten through eighth grade among the cohort of students who entered kindergarten in 1998. The dissertation will build on research on both income and racial achievement gaps and inform ongoing debates about Affirmative Action policies in college admissions. In the 2014 case Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, the Supreme Court upheld the right of voters in the state of Michigan to ban race-conscious policies in public university admissions. Recent research on income achievement gaps has been cited in support of the position that schools should stop considering race in admissions and turn to exclusively class-based policies (e.g., Kahlenberg and Potter 2014 in The New York Times Opinion Pages Room for Debate). Affirmative Action policies based on class alone, however, may ignore remaining racial educational inequalities within social class groups. It will remain unclear how large of a problem this is, or is not, until more research is conducted on K-12 racial achievement gaps within income groups.
About Jordan Conwell
Jordan Conwell is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at Northwestern University. Using both quantitative and qualitative methods, he investigates how intersections of race and class inequality in students’ educational experiences and outcomes, in both K-12 and higher education, affect processes of racial stratification and intergenerational class mobility. He also has a longstanding interest in how historically-influential ideas about race and education, such as those of W.E.B. Du Bois, can inform present-day theory development, empirical analysis, and broader efforts to bring about equality of educational opportunity. While living in Chicago, he has also contributed to multiple published reports as a volunteer research assistant with the Chicago Teachers’ Union. His sole- or co-authored work has appeared or is forthcoming in Sociology of Education, The Journal of Negro Education, and Undergraduate Journal of Service Learning and Community-Based Research.

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