Amazingly, more than fifty years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Educationthat the “separate but equal” doctrine was unconstitutionaland ordered public schools to desegregate with “all deliberate speed,”African American children, especially African American boys, still are not getting an equal education.African American males are overrepresentedin school suspensions, expulsions, special education classes, and as dropouts, but they are underrepresented in gifted and talented classes and college enrollment.
Most troubling is the wide gap that exists between the reading, science, and mathematics test scores of African American students and those of their white counterparts. Educators call it the “achievement gap.” The achievement gap indicates that African American children are not receiving the same high-quality education that white and Asian children are receiving in public schools. This gap has many negative ramifications that are discussedin this book. It exists at every level of public education and in every state. It is so severethat Dr. Rod Paige, the former secretary of education in the Bush Administration, reported that most African Americanhigh school students are four grade levels behind their white counterparts. It continues to play out in numerous aspects of public education, as the following statistics demonstrate.
Let us briefly look at the achievement gap for black and white fourth and eighth gradersin reading, science and mathematics from 1990 to 2013. Let us start with reading scores.
Reading Scores for African American and White Fourth Graders
As Table 1 shows, in 1992, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reports that the average reading score for white fourth graders was 224 and for African American fourth graders it was 192. That was a 32-point gap. In 2013, although the average reading score for white fourth graders rose from 224 to 232 and for African American fourth graders it rose from 192 to 206, the gap for these students remained virtually the same at 26 points. In other words, for the last two decades, the gap narrowed only 6 points. This lingering 26-point gap is unacceptable and strongly confirms that African Americanfourth graders are not receiving the same high-qualityeducation in reading as their white counterparts and this we must change.
Reading Scores for African American and White Eighth Graders
The data in Table 2 for white and African American eighth graders is as troubling as the data in Table 1. In 1992, the average reading score for white eighth graders was 267. For African American eighth graders, it was 237. That was a 30-point gap. In 2013, the average reading score for white eighth graders rose 9 points from 267 to 276 and for African American eighth graders it rose 13 points from 237 to 250, which still netted a 26-point gap. Thus, over the last two decades, the gap narrowed only 4 points. Again, this stubborn 26-point gap is very much unacceptable and warns us that the public school system is failing African American eighth graders in reading, as it is African American fourth graders. As parents, we must not depend on anyone else to fix this dilemma; instead, we must take responsibility and redouble our efforts to fix it ourselves. It is our duty as parents.
Math Scores for African American and White Fourth Graders
The data in Table 3 does not give us much room to celebrate in math either. In 1990, white fourth graders had an average math score of 220,and African American fourth graders had a score of 188. That was a 32-point gap. In 2013, the average math score for white fourth graders rose impressively from 220 to 250 and for African American fourth graders they rose impressively toofrom 188 to 224. There remains a persistent gap of 26 points notwithstanding this impressive increase in math scores for white and African American fourth graders. This persistent gap is a slight improvement from the 1990 gap of 32 points,but it isa stark reminder that much more work is neededin this area. Don’t misunderstand me. We should celebrate the gains white and African American children made in math but closing the persistent gap between the math scores of white and African American students must become and remain our urgent call to action.
Math Scores for African American and White Eighth Graders
The data in Table 4 below again leaves us little to celebrate for African American students. In 1990, the average math score for white eighth graders was 270 and for African American eighth graders it was 237, which is a 33-point gap. In 2013, the average math score for white eighth graders rose an impressive 24 points to 294 and for their African American counterparts it rose an impressive 26 points to 263. This isa significant increase for both white and African American eighth graders; nevertheless, the gap betweenthe math scores of white and African American eighth graders narrowed only 2 points over the last two decades. It isnow a 31-point gap, which is depressing. As we acknowledged above, it isgreat that the math scores of both white and African American students rose rather significantly over the last two decades. However, at the risk of sounding like a brokenrecord, why do the math scores of African American students continue to lag way behind whites? The answers to this question are foundin the pages of this text. Just keep reading!
Science Scores for African American and White Eighth Graders
We have science scores for white and African American eighth graders for the years 2009 and 2011, but not for the last two decades as we did for reading and math. Nevertheless, the gap that exists betweenscience scores of white and African American eighth graders is as alarming as it is for reading and math scores of white and African American eighth graders. Let us look.
As Table 5 shows, the average science score for white eighth graders for 2009 was 162 and for 2011, it was 163. Whereas with African American eighth graders, their scores were much lower at 126 for 2009 and 129 for 2011. Both groups of students had a slight increase in their scores from 2009 and 2011,but the gap in the scores remained high for both years, which was 36 points for 2009 and 34 points for 2011. As with the gap in reading and math, the science gap is most troubling. Perhaps the science gap is even more disturbing given the importance of science in today’s job market.
Gifted Programs and Advanced Placement
According to the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, white students comprise approximately 56% of the total school population but comprise almost 68% of the students in gifted and talented education classes. Asian American students comprise less than 5% of the total school population but account for nearly10% of the students in gifted and talented education classes. However, African American students comprise 17% of the school population but only 9% of the students in gifted and talented education classes.
High suspension rates in middle and high schools have increased dramatically over time, especially for African American students. This rate has increased so much that nearly one in four African American students generally and one in three African American middle school males specifically were suspended at least once in 2009-2010.
High School Completion
The graduation rate for African American males in 2009/10 was only 52%, and for Latino males, it was 60%. The graduation rate for white, non-Latino males was 78%. This wasthe first year that more than half of African American males in ninth grade graduated with regular diplomas four years later.
College Entrance and Graduation
When compared to African American women, the enrollment of African American men in college is dismal. For instance, out of the 73.7% of African American males who graduated from high school in 2000, only 33.8% enrolled in college compared to 43.9% of African American females who graduated from high school in 2000.Moreover, in2006, African American females earned 94,341 bachelor‘s degrees while African Americanmales earned only about half that number, which were48,079.
Causes of the Achievement Gap
Researchers, activists, and educators proffer different theories to explain the achievement gap. Educators blame everyone but themselves for the gap. They argue that lazy students, uninvolved African Americanparents, poverty, dysfunctional families, violent communities, and other such factors cause it. Activists and liberals, on the other hand, hold everyone responsible for the gap except students and their parents. They blame racism, stereotypes, low teacher expectations, unequal funding, and other causes.
Some scholars and researchers offer the most absurd theories to explain the achievement gap. They argue that blacks are innately inferior to whites and Asians orthat blacks generallydislike intellectual competition and, therefore,punish, rather than celebrate, other blacks that excel in school.On the other hand, author and activist Jawanza Kunjufu, Ph.D., makes an argument that many blacks embrace. He contends that the achievement gap is evidence of an insidious white supremacist conspiracy against blacks in general and African American boys in particular, and indifferent educators, uninvolved African Americanparentsand the streets are silent accomplices. Elementary schools are especially blameworthy, he argues, because they are responsible forthe academic retrogression that most African American boys experience around fourth grade, which he calls “The Fourth Grade Failure Syndrome.”
In myview, the achievement gap is the result of many causes, first and foremost unwholesome homes, ineffective schools, inept and racist teachers, unsafe neighborhoods, and unequal funding for poor schools. Iwill address each of these causes in the pages that follow.
How to Close the Achievement Gap
Since it is the result of multiple causes, closing the achievement gap will require a concerted effort from all interested parties. Each party must respond in earnest to the moral, social, and economic imperative of making equal education accessible to all of America’s children, regardless of whether they are poor, rich, African American, white, red, yellow, or brown.The cost of neglecting any of them is too high for the country to continue paying it.
As Imentioned earlier, the achievement gap and other inequities in public education represent an educational crisis. When the country has faced crises in the past, the federal government has stepped in with strong leadership. Yet, manywhite politicians and educators are displeased with federal involvement in public education, arguing that public education should be locally controlled. Moreover, they believe federal remedies are too far-reaching and heavy-handed or that noncompliance with federal remedies is too costly. Additionally, some white politicians and educators wouldrather maintain the status quo than push for change, especially since the crisis appears to affect only African Americans. Some of these people strongly disapprove of federal involvement in public education. Nevertheless, the federal government must lead when individual states cannot or will not adequately address a crisis of this national significance.
National Center for Education Statistics (2012). The Nation’s Report Card: Science 2011 (NCES 2012–465). Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C., p.6
Erwin, J. O., & Worrell, F. C. (2012). Assessment Practices and the Underrepresentation of Minority Students in Gifted and Talented Education. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 30(1), 74 –87.
Losen, D. J., & Martinez, T. E. (2013). Out of school & off track: The overuse od suspensions in American Middle and High Schools. The Civil Rights Project.
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