Skip to main content

THE COLOR LINE IN AMERICAN EDUCATION: Race, Resources, and Student Achievement

  • Linda Darling-Hammond (a1)

Despite the rhetoric of American equality, the school experiences of African American and other “minority” students in the United States continue to be substantially separate and unequal. Dramatically different learning opportunities—especially disparities in access to well-qualified teachers, high quality curriculum, and small schools and classes—are strongly related to differences in student achievement. Standards-based reforms have been launched throughout the United States with promises of greater equity, but, while students are held to common standards—and increasingly experience serious sanctions if they fail to achieve them—few states have equalized funding and access to the key educational resources needed for learning. The result of this collision of new standards with old inequities is less access to education for many students of color, rather than more. This article outlines current disparities in educational access, illustrates the relationships among race, educational resources, and student achievement, and proposes reforms needed to equalize opportunities to learn.

Corresponding author
Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, School of Education, CERAS Building—4th floor, 520 Galvez Mall, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-3084. E-mail:
Hide All


Alexander, K. L. and E. L. McDill (1976) Selection and allocation within schools: Some causes and consequences of curriculum placement. American Sociological Review, 41: 963980.
Allington, R. and A. McGill-Franzen (1992) Unintended effects of educational reform in New York. Educational Policy, 6: 397414.
Ashton, P. and L. Crocker (1987) Systematic study of planned variations: The essential focus of teacher education reform. Journal of Teacher Education, 38: 28.
Barr, R. and R. Dreeben (1983). How schools work. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Barton, P. E. and R. J. Coley (1996). Captive Students: Education and Training in America's Prisons. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.
Berry, B. (1995). Keeping Talented Teachers: Lessons Learned from the North Carolina Teaching Fellows. Commissioned by The North Carolina Teaching Fellows Commission, Raleigh, NC: Public School Forum.
Betts, J. R., K. S. Rueben, and A. Danenberg (2000). Equal Resources, Equal Outcomes? The Distribution of School Resources and Student Achievement in California. San Francisco: Public Policy Institute of California.
Bowman, B. (1993). Early childhood education. In L. Darling-Hammond (Ed.), Review of Research in Education, 19: pp. 101134 Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.
Braddock, J. and J. M. McPartland (1993). Education of early adolescents. In L. Darling-Hammond (Ed.), Review of Research in Education, 19: pp. 135170. Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.
Cohen, D. et al. (1990). Case studies of curriculum implementation. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 12: 3.
College Board (1985). Equality and Excellence: The Educational Status of Black Americans. New York: College Entrance Examination Board.
Coleman, J. S., E. Q. Campbell, C. J. Hobson, J. McPartland, A. M. Mood, F. D. Weinfeld, and R. L. York (1966). Equality of Educational Opportunity. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Commission on Chapter 1 (1992). High Performance Schools: No Exceptions, No Excuses. Washington, DC: Author.
Cooper, E. and J. Sherk (1989) Addressing urban school reform: Issues and alliances. Journal of Negro Education, 58: 315331.
Cremin, L. (1970). American Education: The Colonial Experience 1607–1783. New York: Harper & Row.
Darling-Hammond, L. (1990a). Teacher quality and equality. In J. Goodlad & P. Keating (Eds.), Access to Knowledge: An Agenda for Our Nation's Schools. New York: College Entrance Examination Board. 237258.
Darling-Hammond, L. (1990b) Instructional policy into practice: “The power of the bottom over the top.” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 12: 233242.
Darling-Hammond, L. (1991). The Implications of Testing Policy for Quality and Equality. Phi Delta Kappan, November 1991: 220225.
Darling-Hammond, L. (1997). The Right to Learn: A Blueprint for Creating Schools that Work. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
Darling-Hammond, L. (2000, January). Teacher quality and student achievement: A review of state policy evidence. Educational Policy Analysis Archives, 8 (1):
Darling-Hammond, L., J. Ancess, and S. Ort (2002) Reinventing high school: outcomes of the coalition campus school project. American Educational Research Journal, 39(3): 639673.
Darling-Hammond, L. and G. Sykes (2003). Wanted: A national teacher supply policy for education: The right way to meet the ‘highly qualified teacher’ challenge. Educational Policy Analysis Archives, 11, (3).
Davis, D. G. (1986). A Pilot Study to Assess Equity in Selected Curricular Offerings across Three Diverse Schools in a Large Urban School District. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco.
Dreeben, R. (1987, Winter). Closing the Divide: What Teachers and Administrators Can Do To Help Black Students Reach Their Reading Potential. American Educator, 11: 2835.
Dreeben, R. and A. Gamoran (1986) Race, instruction, and learning. American Sociological Review, 51: 660669.
Dreeben, R. and R. Barr (1987). Class Composition and the Design of Instruction. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Education Research Association, Washington, DC.
Du Bois, W. E. B. (1970). The freedom to learn. In Dr. P. S. Foner (Ed.) W. E. B. Du Bois Speaks. New York: Pathfinder, 230231.
Ebmeier, H., S. Twombly, and D. Teeter (1990). The comparability and adequacy of financial support for schools of education. Journal of Teacher Education, 42: 226235.
Eckstrom, R. and A. M. Villegas (1991) Ability grouping in middle grade mathematics: Process and consequences. Research in Middle Level Education, 15: 120.
Educational Testing Service (1991). The State of Inequality. Princeton, NJ: E.T.S.
Ferguson, R. F. (1991, Summer). Paying for public education: New evidence on how and why money matters. Harvard Journal on Legislation, 28: 465498.
Ferguson, R. F. and H. F. Ladd (1996). How and why money matters: An analysis of Alabama schools. In Helen Ladd (Ed.) Holding Schools Accountable. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.
Fetler, M. (1999). High school staff characteristics and mathematics test results. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 7 (March 24):
Figlio, D. N. and L. S. Getzler (2002, April). Accountability, Ability, and Disability: Gaming the System? Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.
Finley, M. K. (1984) Teachers and tracking in a comprehensive high school. Sociology of Education, 57: 233243.
Fuller, E. (1998, November). Do properly certified teachers matter? A comparison of elementary school performance on the TAAS in 1997 between schools with high and low percentages of properly certified regular education teachers. Austin, TX: The Charles A. Dana Center, University of Texas at Austin.
Fuller, E. (2000). Do properly certified teachers matter? Properly certified Algebra teachers and Algebra I achievement in Texas. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association. New Orleans, LA, April, 2000.
Futernick, K. (2001). A district-by-district analysis of the distribution of teachers in California and an overview of the Teacher Qualification Index (TQI). Sacramento: California State University, Sacramento, April, 2000.
Gamoran, A. (1992) Access to excellence: Assignment to honors English classes in the transition from middle to high school. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 14: 185204.
Gamoran, A. (1990). The consequences of track-related instructional differences for student achievement. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Boston.
Gamoran, A. and M. Berends (1987) The effects of stratification in secondary schools: Synthesis of survey and ethnographic research. Review of Educational Research, 57: 415436.
Gamoran, A. and R. Mare (1989) Secondary school tracking and educational inequality: Compensation, reinforcement or neutrality? American Journal of Sociology, 94: 11461183.
Garcia, E. (1993) Language, culture, and education. In L. Darling-Hammond (Ed.), Review of Research in Education, 19: 5198. Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.
Gemignani, R. J. (1994, October). Juvenile Correctional Education: A Time for Change. Update on Research. Juvenile Justice Bulletin. (U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention).
Glaser, R. (1981) The future of testing: A research agenda for cognitive psychology and psychometrics. American Psychologist, 39: 923936.
Glaser, R. (1990). Testing and assessment: O Tempora! O Mores! Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh, Learning Research and Development Center.
Goe, L. (2002). Legislating equity: The distribution of emergency permit teachers in California. Berkeley: Graduate School of Education, University of California, Berkeley.
Goldhaber, D. D. and D. J. Brewer (2000) Does teacher certification matter? High school certification status and student achievement. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 22: 129145.
Good, T. L. and J. Brophy (1987). Looking in Classrooms. New York: Harper and Row.
Grant, C. A. (1989, June). Urban teachers: Their new colleagues and curriculum. Phi Delta Kappan, 70: 764770.
Greenwald, R., L. V. Hedges, and R. D. Laine (1996) The effect of school resources on student achievement. Review of Educational Research, 66: 361396.
Grissmer, D. W., A. Flanagan, J. Kawata, and S. Williamson (2000). Improving student achievement: What NAEP state test scores tell us. Santa Monica: RAND Report. Available online:
Haney, W. (2000). The myth of the Texas miracle in education. Educational Policy Analysis Archives, (41):
Hanushek, E. (2003). The Structure of Analysis and Argument in Plaintiff Expert Reports for Williams v. State of California. Downloaded on 4/19/04 from
Hawk, P., C. R. Coble, and M. Swanson (1985). Certification: It does matter. Journal of Teacher Education, 36: 1315.
Hedges, L. V., R. D. Laine, and R. Greenwald (1994) Does money matter? A meta-analysis of studies of the effects of differential school inputs on student outcomes. Educational Research, 23: 514.
Henke, R. R., X. Chen, S. Geis, and P. Knepper. (2000). Progress Through the Teacher Pipeline: 1992–93 College Graduates and Elementary/Secondary School Teaching as of 1997. NCES 2000–152. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.
Howard, R., R. Hitz, and L. Baker (1997). Comparative Study of Expenditures per Student Credit Hour of Education Programs to Programs of other Disciplines and Professions. Montana State University-Bozeman.
Hoffer, T. B. (1992) Middle school ability grouping and student achievement in science and mathematics. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 14(3): 205227.
Jacob, B. A. (2002). The impact of high-stakes testing on student achievement: Evidence from Chicago. Working Paper. Harvard University.
Jones, L. V. (1984) White-Black achievement differences: The narrowing gap. American Psychologist, 39: 12071213.
Jones, L. V., N. W. Burton, and E. C. Davenport (1984) Monitoring the achievement of Black students, Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 15: 154164.
Kaufman, J. E. and J. E Rosenbaum (1992) Education and employment of low-income Black youth in White suburbs. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 14: 229240.
Kluger, R. (1976). Simple Justice. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Kozol, J. (1991). Savage Inequalities. New York: Crown.
Krueger, A. B. (2000). Economic Considerations and Class Size, Paper 447. Princeton University, Industrial Relations Section.
Kulik, C. C. and J. A. Kulik (1982) Effects of ability grouping on secondary school students: A meta-analysis of evaluation findings. American Education Research Journal, 19: 415428.
Lankford, H., S. Loeb, and J. Wyckoff (2002) Teacher sorting and the plight of urban schools: A descriptive analysis. Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 24: 3762.
Lee, V. and A. Bryk (1988) Curriculum tracking as mediating the social distribution of high school achievement. Sociology of Education, 61: 7894.
MacPhail-Wilcox, B. and R. A. King (1986) Resource allocation studies: Implications for school improvement and school finance research. Journal of Education Finance, 11: 416432.
Massachusetts Department of Education (2004). Dropout Rates for 2002–03 at
Matthews, W. (1984) Influences on the learning and participation of minorities in mathematics. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 15: 8495.
McKnight, C. C., J. A. CrossWhite, J. A. Dossey, E. Kifer, S. O. Swafford, K. J. Travers, and T. J. Cooney (1987). The underachieving curriculum: Assessing U.S. School mathematics from an international perspective. Champaign, IL: Stipes Publishing.
Meier, K. J., J. Stuart, Jr., and R. E. England (1989). Race, class and education: The politics of second-generation discrimination. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.
Miller, J. G. (1997, June). African American males in the criminal justice system. Phi Delta Kappan, K1K12.
Monk, D. H. (1994) Subject matter preparation of secondary mathematics and science teachers and student achievement. Economics of Education Review, 13: 125145.
Moore, D. and S. Davenport (1988). The new improved sorting machine. Madison, WI: National Center on Effective Secondary Schools.
Moore, E. G. and A. W. Smith (1985) Mathematics aptitude: Effects of coursework, household language, and ethnic differences. Urban Education, 20: 273294.
National Center for Education Statistics (1985). The condition of education, 1985. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) (1994). Digest of Education Statistics, 1994. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) (1997). America's Teachers: Profile of a Profession, 1993–94. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) (1998). The Condition of Education, 1998. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) (2000). Digest of Education Statistics, 1999. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) (2002). The Condition of Education, 2002. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (NCTAF) (1996). What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future. New York: Author.
National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (NCTAF) (1997). Unpublished tabulations from the 1993–94 Schools and Staffing Surveys.
National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (NCTAF) (2003). No Dream Denied: A Pledge to America's Children. New York: Author.
National Council on Education Standards and Testing (NCEST) (1992). Raising standards for American education. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.
Oakes, J. (1985). Keeping Track. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Oakes, J. (1986) “Tracking in secondary schools: A contextual perspective.” Educational Psychologist, 22: 129154.
Oakes, J. (1990). Multiplying inequalities: The effects of race, social class, and tracking on opportunities to learn mathematics and science. Santa Monica, CA: The RAND Corporation.
Oakes, J. (1992) Can tracking research inform practice? Technical, normative, and political considerations. Educational Researcher, 21: 1221.
Oakes, J. (1993). Ability Grouping, Tracking, and Within-School Segregation in the San Jose Unified School District. Los Angeles, CA: University of California, Los Angeles.
Oakes, J. (2003). Teaching to Change the World. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.
Orfield, G. (2001). Schools more separate: Consequences of a decade of resegregation, Cambridge, MA, The Civil Rights project, Harvard University.
Orfield, G. and C. Ashkinaze (1991). The Closing Door: Conservative Policy and Black Opportunity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p. 139.
Paterson Institute (1996). The African American data book. Reston, VA: Paterson Institute.
Pelavin, S. H. and M. Kane (1990). Changing the odds: Factors increasing access to college. New York: College Entrance Examination Board.
Peterson, P. (1989) Remediation is no remedy. Educational Leadership, 46: 2425.
Resnick, L. B. (1987). Education and learning to think. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Rock, D. A., T. L. Hilton, J. Pollack, R. B. Ekstrom, and M. E. Goertz (1985). A study of excellence in high school education: Educational policies, school quality, and student outcomes. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.
Rosenbaum, J. (1976). Making Inequality: The Hidden Curriculum of High School Tracking. New York: Wiley.
Shields, P. M., D. C. Humphrey, M. E. Wechsler, L. M. Riel, J. Tiffany-Morales, K. Woodworth, V. M. Youg, and T. Price (2001). The status of the teaching profession 2001. Santa Cruz, CA: The Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning.
Slavin, R. E. (1990) Achievement effects of ability grouping in secondary schools: A best evidence synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 60: 471500.
Smith, F. et al. (1986). High School Admission and the Improvement of Schooling. New York: New York City Board of Education.
Strauss, R. P. and E. A. Sawyer (1986). Some New Evidence on Teacher and Student Competencies. Economics of Education Review, 5: 4148.
Talbert, J. E. (1990). Teacher tracking: Exacerbating inequalities in the high school. Stanford, CA: Center for Research on the Context of Secondary Teaching, Stanford University.
Taylor, W. L. and D. M. Piche (1991). A report on shortchanging children: The impact of fiscal inequity on the education of students at risk. Prepared for the Committee on Education and Labor, US House of Representatives. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.
Trimble, K. and R. L. Sinclair (1986). Ability grouping and differing conditions for learning: An analysis of content and instruction in ability-grouped classes. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco.
Tyack, D. (1974). The one best system. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
U.S. Bureau of the Census. (1992). Statistical abstract of the United States: 1992. 112th edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce.
U.S. Bureau of the Census (1996). Statistical abstract of the United States: 1996. 116th edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce.
Useem, E. L. (1990, Fall). You're good, but you're not good enough: Tracking students out of advanced mathematics. American Educator, 14: 24–27, 43–46.
Usiskin, Z. (1987) Why elementary algebra can, should, and must be an eighth grade course for average students. Mathematics Teacher, 80: 428438.
Watson, B. C. (1996). Testing: Its origins, use and misuse. Philadelphia, PA: Urban League of Philadelphia.
Wenglinsky, H. (2002). How Schools Matter: The Link between Teacher Classroom Practice and Student Academic Performance. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 10 (12);
Wheelock, A. (1992). Crossing the Tracks. New York: The New Press.
Wheelock, A. (2003). School Awards Programs and Accountability in Massachusetts: Misusing MCAS Scores to Assess School Quality.
Wilson, S. (1990) A conflict of interests: Constraints that affect teaching and change. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 12: 309326.
Wilson, S. M., L. Darling-Hammond, and B. Berry (2001). Teaching policy: Connecticut's long-term efforts to improve teaching and learning. Seattle: Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy, University of Washington.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race
  • ISSN: 1742-058X
  • EISSN: 1742-0598
  • URL: /core/journals/du-bois-review-social-science-research-on-race
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 33
Total number of PDF views: 242 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 980 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 20th November 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.