In San Joaquin County and the state of California, black and Latino children lag behind their white peers in both language arts and math
On average in San Joaquin County, about 51 percent of white students demonstrated proficiency on their math and language-arts tests.
For Latinos, those figures were 31 percent in language arts and 37 percent in math. Among black children, 31 percent of children showed language arts proficiency, while 30 percent demonstrated the same level of skill in math.
In the county as a whole, the median achievement gaps between black and white children and Latino and white children were close to 20 percentage points in all areas.
Such gaps have dogged California's public schools for decades, and educators and scholars have developed many explanations for what creates them. In general, they agree the problem is multifaceted, involving a range of school- and family-related factors.
In 1999, Jack McLaughlin, Stockton Unified's new superintendent, helped develop the Minority Student Achievement Network, now a coalition of 25 relatively affluent school districts throughout the country aimed at studying and addressing achievement disparities.
The issues that create low achievement among minority students often have to do with poverty, McLaughlin said.
"And, of course, with your non-English-speaking Hispanics, it might be language barriers," he said.
Other advocates have argued that schools themselves contribute to performance disparities. In 2000, nearly 100 students from San Francisco County sued the state, arguing that education agencies did not provide students with equal access to materials, safe and decent facilities, and qualified teachers.
The Williams case was settled in 2004, with the state sending more than $100 million to the lowest-performing public schools.
About a year ago, a Record analysis of school personnel data showed that San Joaquin County schools serving the most poor and minority students tend to have the least-experienced teachers.
"It's probably fair to say that this is one of the longest-standing and most intractable problems in public education," University of California, Berkeley, professor Frank Worrell said of performance gaps. "It just means that you have to work harder. Students are seeing these kinds of things.
"To tell a kid from the city that you can do as well as a kid from the suburbs because you have the same resources, we are telling kids things that are not true and they know not to be true. So why should they invest?"
Other explanations for achievement gaps have been argued, many of them controversial: that teachers, without realizing it, communicate higher expectations for white children than for black and Latino children; that black or Latino children hesitate to perform to their fullest potential because they don't want to be accused of "acting white"; that some cultures do not value education has highly as others.
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