Christopher Jencks

Christopher Jencks is Malcolm Wiener Professor of Social Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. His books include Inequality: A Reassessment of the Effect of Family and Schooling in America and Black-White Test Score Gap. He is a Prospect contributing editor.

Recent Articles

America's Next Achievement Test

Despite significant improvement in recent decades, blacks still score consistently lower than whites on tests of academic performance. But recent studies show that the gap is not genetic in origin and suggest how it can be closed.

African Americans currently score lower than European Americans on vocabulary, reading, and math tests, as well as on tests that claim to measure scholastic aptitude and intelligence. This gap appears before children enter kindergarten, and it persists into adulthood. It has narrowed since 1970, but the median American black still scores below 75 percent of American whites on most standardized tests. On some tests the typical American black scores below more than 85 percent of whites.

Without a Net

The welfare rolls have fallen by almost half since 1994. To assess the impact of this dramatic change, both journalists and social scientists have been talking to families that have left the rolls. But these families are only half the story. Even without welfare reform, nearly half the single mothers on the rolls in 1994 would have left by 1999 simply because their children grew older, they found work, or they got married. But in the absence of welfare reform, most of these mothers would have been replaced by other mothers who had just had their first baby, split up with their husband, or lost their job. Because states have made it far more difficult to get on welfare, most of those who left the rolls were not replaced.

Controversy: The Black-White Test Score Gap

The question of persistent racial differences in tested cognitive ability has long been politically awkward for liberals. In "America's Next Achievement Test," which appeared in our September-October 1998 issue, Christopher Jencks and Meredith Phillips confronted that awkwardness, proposing that closing the black-white test score gap could possibly "do more to promote racial equality than any other strategy that commands broad political support."

Is Violent Crime Increasing?

Almost without exception, Americans believe that violent crime is increasing. In the short run, they are right: Violent crime did increase between 1985 and 1990. But what really worries most people is not the short-run trend but their sense that violent crime has been climbing steadily for a long time and that the future will only bring further increases. Such worries are linked to anxiety about drugs, permissive childrearing, hedonism, declining academic standards, the growth of the ghetto underclass, and our collective inability to compete with the Japanese. Taken together, these fears have convinced many sensible people that American society is on the skids.

The Real Welfare Problem

The Family Support Act, America's most recent effort at welfare reform, begins to take effect this year. The new law seeks to get single mothers off welfare through a combination of job training, work requirements, child care subsidies, and child support enforcement. Cutting the welfare rolls is, in turn, supposed to save the taxpayer money while enhancing the self-respect of single mothers and their children.