William Saletan doesn't see why we should. He's worried the data will add more fuel to those who claim that blacks are genetically less intelligent than whites. He rhetorically asks:
Why categorize and measure students by race? ... Does that category really help? And what message does it send to kids when headlines assert a persistent "racial gap"?John McWhorter responds:
I find it hard to imagine that Saletan has seen the countless books and articles on the black-white performance gap and scratched his head wondering just what the epistemological or historical groundings were for addressing race as a metric....Here's Saletan's response, in which backs up his concerns with more details, links, and a metaphor about an oncoming train. He ends on a moralistic note:
Why would a nationally prominent journalist pretend not to understand why National Assessment of Educational Progress data is broken down by race, as if he lives in a different country--or century--than his own?
Each of us should be judged by his own performance, not by a stereotype.McWhorter has a powerful reply: data that persistently show an academic-performance gap between blacks and whites, even after controlling for income, could actually help us to clarify our views of how poor black kids' learning environments are less nourishing than poor white kids'. He explains:
[S]ure, it may turn out that whites and/or Asians have higher intelligence than black people. It's not news I would love hearing, for all the same reasons few of us would. But it could happen.All 4 linked pieces are worth reading in full.
However, to me, the evidence suggests that the difference in question, if it exists, would be quite small. Other factors are just as plausibly responsible for most or even all of the gap between poor white and poor black kids on tests like the NAEP....
[M]ost of us will spontaneously notice that the worst schools in the nation - the violent, understaffed, ramshackle inner-city disasters where little learning happens--don't have many white kids in them....
Poor black kids are routinely subject to less qualified teachers, who stick around for less time, than poor white kids. A classic study on the question by John Kain and Kraig Singleton addressed the situation in Texas.
Or, the typical poor white child is surrounded by fewer poor people than the typical poor black child, and only about 1 in 20 poor white kids go to schools where almost all students are also poor (useful facts on this here).
Notice that I am not claiming (despite sources such as the one I linked because of its handy presentation of other data) that the problem is "segregation"--i.e. that poor black kids are done in by going to school with people the same color as them, a tragic distortion of the meaning and significance of the word segregation in our times which I deplore. "Segregated" KIPP academies are teaching poor black and brown kids brilliantly all over the country (which, itself, is further evidence that the problem is how such kids are taught more than how their brains are configured).
The issue is poverty rather than race, and the cultural baggage it often means kids are bringing to school--which the schools poor black kids attend are less adept at compensating for than those attended by the poor white kids. Plus, poor white kids are more likely to have more fortunate students around them to imitate and learn from.
I think this is a complex debate, but in the end, I have to agree with McWhorter.
One problem I have with Saletan's position is: the data showing the performance gap already exist. So even if we stopped categorizing the students by race, those who are determined to make the case that blacks have genetically low intelligence could simply continue to make the same arguments they've been making, based on the old data. Even worse, they could point to the absence of current data as a sign that the truth is so politically incorrect that the powers-that-be "don't want you to know about it."
It's better to let everyone see all the facts, so that non-racists can drown out the racists' arguments by making the most convincing, reality-based arguments available. If you can continue to make relevant arguments on an issue like education funding, you're more likely to convince the public and lawmakers to make it a high priority.
As an aside, Saletan says he "resent[s]" that his daughter's kindergarten school requires him to fill out a form indicating her race. This is comically unsympathetic. Some things just aren't very important, and the effect of occasional paperwork on white parents' feelings about their own whiteness is one of them.