On Roland Fryer’s 21st Century Inequality: The Declining Significance of Discrimination


Roland Fryer recently gave a talked titled: 21st Century Inequality: The Declining Significance of Discrimination.

The text is here. It is well worth reading.

What I Think He Gets Right

1. Test scores are not everything but they tell us a lot.

2. Racism still exists and explains some portion of differences in life outcomes for African-Americans.

3. Differences in education attainment also explain some portion of the differences in life outcomes for African-Americans.

4. In terms of causation for negative outcomes, the effect of educational attainment in increasing and the effect of racism is decreasing.

5. No Excuses charter schools can significantly reduce achievement gaps through: teacher feedback, more time, data usage, tutoring, and high expectations.

6. Focused interventions in districts that use these same principles may see positive results (Fryer points to the Apollo program in Houston).

Where I Have Questions: Reading, Scale, Sustainability

Fryer ends his speech:

It is not rocket science. It is not magic. There is nothing special about it. When the film Waiting for Superman came out, people complained that the nation is undersupplied with supermen. But an ordinary nerd like me was able to uncover a simple and readily repeated recipe for progress. Anyone can do this stuff.

Is this true?


First, it’s worth nothing that so far the Apollo program has had positive effects in math but no effects in reading. Fryer’s own paper notes:

Surprisingly, the impacts on reading for both elementary and secondary schools are small and positive, but statistically indistinguishable from zero.

If it’s not rocket science, how come they are seeing no real long-term gains in reading?

Also, the best No Excuses charters see significant positive effects in reading, so we can really say that “anyone can do this stuff” when the district schools did not see positive effects?


The Houston program is one pilot. As Megan McArdle has written: Beware the Stunning Pilot Program. High profile interventions that achieve results are notoriously hard to scale.

To Fryer’s credit, he’s attempting to scale the program in Denver and Springfield.

Time will tell if the intervention can work across numerous cities.


School district interventions are notoriously hard to sustain. Politics, leadership transitions, and organizational culture often undermine interventions.

It’s open question on whether or not this intervention will have staying power.

In Sum

I could have titled this post All Hail Roland Fryer. He’s a great researcher doing important work.

If he can figure out how to scale an intervention that achieves .16 effects in math, this will be a stunning contribution to education reform.

He will also have contributed significantly to the research question: Who Will Learn From Whom?

Lastly, it’s worth saluting the schools from which Fryer’s research is based: MATCH, Harlem Children’s Zone, KIPP and others have done incredibly work to bring these practices to light.

2 thoughts on “On Roland Fryer’s 21st Century Inequality: The Declining Significance of Discrimination

  1. Hugh Guill

    When you say “.16 effect”, what are you referring to statistically?

    I notice in many of your posts these statistical references and am not sure what they represent.

    Sent from my iPhone


    1. nkingsl

      It usually means .X standard deviations of growth compared to a control group over a certain amount of time (usually 1-2 growth periods / 2-3 years)…. CREDO also translates their effect sizes into days of learning, which is useful shorthand


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