Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Harvard prof Fryer lauds Charlotte’s inequality study, praises tutoring

As major news sources regularly report, Charlotte has a serious problem with an underclass that can’t get ahead financially.

City leaders have worked to tackle the problem for 18 months and recently issued a report suggesting some possible solutions.

To keep up momentum for change, UNC Charlotte invited Harvard University professor Roland Fryer to discuss education and police reform at an April 12 lecture sponsored by TIAA.

It was easy to see why Fryer earned tenure at Harvard at age 30, the youngest ever for an African-American. Fryer in 2015 won the John Bates Clark Medal, awarded annually to the top U.S. economist under the age of 40.

In Charlotte this week, he gave a 90-minute, data-driven yet riveting talk about his personal experiences and years of researching how to improve schools and reduce tensions between police and communities.

Here are some of his comments, based on studies at K-12 schools in Boston, Houston and many other cities.

  • The best ways to improve student performance are preschool education programs and “high-dosage” tutoring. Houston hired hundreds of part-time tutors to work with groups of two or three students at the city’s worst schools. Math scores improved impressively.
  • The most essential key to improved schools is a sincere, urgent empathy for children and youth. Giving up on them should not be an option.
  • How to improve reading scores remains a mystery to researchers. It easier to teach math than reading.
  • Most of the more popular education reforms, including higher teacher pay and smaller class sizes, show much less impact on student performance.
  • Charter schools are no better or worse than regular public schools. The best ones offer important lessons, while the worst ones should be shut down.
  • There is a strong correlation between an 8th grader’s test scores and his or her career earnings.
  • Dramatic improvement at schools often requires massive turnover of teachers who have lost faith in their students’ potential. An alternative is intensive training of principals to improve their management skills, which Fryer says are often sub-par.
  • Charlotte’s effort to attack the problems of its lowest-income residents is laudable and should be repeated in many other cities. It can spark improvements.
  • Giving vouchers to allow low-income residents to move to better neighborhoods has produced education gains in some areas.

On police relations, Fryer attracted criticism last year with a study showing Houston police didn’t use lethal force on African-Americans and Hispanics any more than Caucasians. Conversely, the report showed that minority suspects are more likely to be handcuffed or beaten.

Critics say the study may be biased because Houston isn’t reflective of the nation and overlooked some key issues. But Fryer stands by the data, which rebuffed his lifelong perceptions. He was raised by his grandmother in a crime-ridden Dallas suburb after his father was convicted on rape charges.

To better understand the topic before studying Houston, Fryer spent a couple weeks riding with police. He gained enormous respect for the constant pressure that officers encounter. He recalled watching a heroin addict die, prompting him to want to escape back to his hotel. But the officers working on the case matter-of-factly moved on to the next, because that’s what the job entails.

With his time running out, Fryer offered few solutions to calming tensions between minorities and police. But he joked he wouldn’t show any racial bias if he were an officer. After only a few frazzled hours on the beat, he said, “I was ready to just pull a gun on everyone.”

David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg is editor of Business North Carolina. Reach him at

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