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Bridging the Achievement Gap Between Black and White Students

11/23/2010 11:31 AM -

      The academic achievement gap separating Black and White students has long been known and studied. Though recent efforts to improve minority standings in the past decade have produced some results, the divide remains frustratingly wide.

         New data produced by the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), and reported by the Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS) in A Call for Change, focuses on Black males and shows that those attending schools in urban areas have made more progress than those living elsewhere, but there is still much work to be done.

         The report, released November 16, 2010, found that only 12 percent of Black fourth-grade males are proficient in reading, compared with 38 percent of White males, and only 12 percent of Black eighth-grade males are proficient in math, compared with 44 percent of White males nation wide.

         Further, this report confirms those of a similar study released in July 2009 by the Education Department, in which experts surmised that the academic divide between students along racial lines stems, at least partially, from non-academic factors that hinder learning.

         For example: Black children are more likely to live in poverty, a condition which is linked to an array of problems that can affect academic growth, including low birth weight, exposure to lead poisoning, hunger, excess TV watching, a lack of conversation and reading at home, limited parental involvement and frequent school changing.

         Yet poverty, defined as enrollment in the free and reduced school lunch programs, is not the sole reason for the differences. In fact, poor White males perform just as well academically as African-American males who do not live in poverty. The report points to the need for critical data on academic achievement to be disaggregated by gender and race so we may begin to understand the extent and nature of the challenges confronted by Black males. A Call for Change takes the first step in doing so by looking at six factors, including readiness to learn; Black male achievement on the NAEP; College and Career Preparedness; School Experience; and Postsecondary Experience.

         Finding countless disparities, the report urges the convocation of a White House conference that will encourage Congress to appropriate money for schools in low-income communities and establish networks of Black mentors. It also suggests that Black males should be given appropriate academic and social support throughout the K-16 pipeline by members of both the K-12 and higher education communities. 

         Conversely, the report provides profiles of hope by sharing the stories of seven Black males from CGCS’ districts. These males have overcome hardship and achieved excellence partly due to the support of schools that promote excellence and employ adults that nourish their growth. Three of the profiled males have affiliation with The Harris Foundation (THF): Leangelo Hall (Miami) is an ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Math and Science Scholarship winner; Kelvin Lewis (Columbus, OH) was an applicant for the scholarship, and Devin Guillory (East Baton Rouge) served as camp counselor for the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp at Southern University. THF is proud of these men and their accomplishments, and confident that similar success stories are in the process of being written.

         As we continue to strive for greatness for all Black males, we must continue to search for explanations of the pervasive achievement gap between Blacks and Whites . Many are hoping A Call For Change will further spur those efforts.

         “There’s accumulating evidence that there are racial differences in what kids experience before the first day of kindergarten,” said Ronald Ferguson, director of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard. “In order to address those [differences], we have to be able to have conversations that people are unwilling to have.”

         It is our responsibility as a nation to open the lines of communication and start bridging this divide, so that all children—regardless of ethnic or economic background—can have an equal chance at a success.

         To read "A Call for Change" in its entirety or to read more about the Council for Great City Schools, please visit their website at:



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