April 13, 2006
Vol. 25 No. 14

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    Workshop to scrutinize persistent achievement gap

    By William Harms
    News Office

    One of the most persistent problems in education—the gap in achievement between African-American and white students—will be scrutinized by leading national scholars as part of the new Chicago Workshop on Black-White Inequality being organized by Derek Neal, Chairman and Professor of Economics.

    Over the next three years, the scholars will meet bi-annually to explore various aspects of educational inequalities and look at why relative educational progress for blacks in the United States stopped, in many respects, during the past two decades, Neal said.

    Neal is the author of “Why Has Black-White Skill Convergence Stopped?” which will be published in the Handbook of Economics of Education. Neal explains in the chapter that the achievement gap between African Americans and whites narrowed for much of the 20th century and then stalled. He adds that it likely will remain in that state for generations unless something is done to improve the learning experiences of African-American children. “We will examine all aspects of this problem, but will probably look most particularly at the family, and the experiences children have before they come to school that have an impact on their achievement,” Neal said of the workshop sessions.

    The inaugural meeting for the workshop will begin at 8:15 a.m., Friday, April 21, in Room 405 in Rosenwald Hall. Jacob Vigdor, assistant professor of public policy studies and economics at Duke University, will open the workshop with a talk on the topic, “The New Promised Land: Black-White Convergence in the American South, 1940-2000.”

    Another session will explore the topic, “Measuring the Impact of Crack Cocaine,” which will include speakers Roland Fryer, junior fellow of the Harvard Society of Fellows; Paul Heaton, a Chicago graduate student in Economics; Steven Levitt, the Alvin Baum Professor in Economics and College; and Kevin Murphy, the George J. Stigler Distinguished Service Professor in Economics and the Graduate School of Business.

    A session on the subject, “The Economic Aftermath of the 1960s Riots: Evidence from Property Values,” will be presented by two Vanderbilt University scholars: Robert Margo, professor of economics and William Collins, associate professor of economics.

    James Heckman, the Henry Schultz Distinguished Service Professor in Economics, and two University graduate students, Jora Stixrud and Sergio Urzua will present “The Effects of Cognitive and Noncognitive Abilities on Labor Market Outcomes and Social Behavior.” Gordon Dahl, associate professor in economics at the University of Rochester, and Lance Lochner, associate professor in economics at the University of Western Ontario, will present “The Impact of Family Income on Child Achievement,”

    Heckman, Levitt and Neal are members of the Core Working Group for the workshop. Other members are Kerwin Charles, the Emmett Dedmon Visiting Associate Professor in the Harris School of Public Policy; Greg Duncan, the Edwina S. Tarry professor of the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University and Director of the Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research; and Fryer, junior fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows.

    The workshop, which is being supported by a grant from the Searle Freedom Trust, will typically meet at the University; however, plans to hold two meetings off-campus, one at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and another at the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin, are also being explored.