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Closing the Gap

In response to:

Playing the Racial Card from the October 24, 1991 issue

To the Editors:

…Consider Andrew Hacker’s discussion of how SAT scores depend on ethnic origin and income [“Playing the Racial Card,” NYR, October 24, 1991]. Concerning high income students he says “The typical score for white students was 961, while black students averaged 807.” Does typical mean the same as average? Usually not, unless you have symmetric and single-peaked distributions around the averages—sloppy language but never mind. What is most interesting is that he fails to notice that the gap between blacks and whites shrinks as income rises. This shrinkage is even more evident if one considers that there is a minimum score of 400 on the SAT (Hacker’s Table C mentions there is a maximum of 1600—apparently he does not know about the minimum). Once these 400 points are subtracted one will see that low income blacks score 292 and low income whites 199 points more, while high income blacks score 407 and high income whites 154 points more. This shrinkage of the gap indicates that one way one can hope to reduce the gap is by combatting economic inequality. This is the point that The Urban Underclass and Affirmative Action Baby strive to make and which Hacker could have reinforced, provided he cared, of course. He might have even investigated what the differences in SAT scores actually mean…

Charles Nissim-Sabat
Professor of Physics and Chairperson
Physics Department
Northeastern Illinois University
Chicago, Illinois

Andrew Hacker replies:

Professor Nissim-Sabat correctly points out that the black-white gap in SAT scores gets smaller as incomes rise. This leads him to argue that reducing economic disparities will bring the races closer together. Yes; but not by very much. Even at higher income levels, visible disparities persist. Here are the differentials at successive income ranges:


The question remains why black students from families with similar incomes still register lower scores than their white peers. I have suggested that since the cause cannot be economic, it results from being raised in racially segregated surroundings.

In fact, the real competition comes from Asians, who are filling up “minority” places in our colleges. And, as the figures show, blacks fall further behind Asians as family incomes rise.

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