The Black-White Achievement Gap: Why Closing It Is the Greatest Civil Rights Issue of Our Time

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Overview

Chosen by The American School Board magazine as one of 2010's Top Education Reads.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
[Starred review] “Paige and Witty do offer real and practical solutions on every level from individual to organizational in a call to arms to address the issue at the last frontier in the civil-rights struggle. This is a passionate, well-researched look at a troubling—but solvable—social problem.” —Booklist

"Practical and productive solutions are discussed in an intelligent, clearly stated, easy to read style....It is refreshing to find an intelligent assessment and acceptance of responsibility by presenting an in-depth study of one’s cultural base, leading to an understanding of the elements that feed the problem." —Bismarck Tribune

"Renowned former U.S. Secretary of Education Paige and Elaine Witty provide a wake-up call to black leaders and communities, urging the kind of action that is essential if the blight on African-American achievement is to be defeated." —Spartanburg Herald Journal

Publishers Weekly
In this clarion call, Paige, a former secretary of education (2001–2005) and his sister, a noted educator, pursue two threads of thought: the quest for authentic African-American leadership and the black-white achievement gap. Their argument: “while racism and discrimination are still barriers to African American progress, they are no longer the primary barriers”; and the “black-white achievement gap is the primary civil rights issue of our time.” The main obstacle to closing that gap is black leadership culture, which they “criticize... for its role in the existence, magnitude, and intractability of the black-white achievement gap.” Authenticity is defined as “activity by individuals or groups, regardless of ethnicity, which, with moral purpose, [that] affects the attitude and behavior of African Americans, through identifying and confronting major barriers to African American achievement.” In making their argument, the authors report quantities of confirming data; assess various explanations for the gap; review the place of education in the black experience; find the NAACP, Congressional Black Caucus, and Urban League to have “overlooked” the issue; and predictably argue for the success of No Child Left Behind, the voucher system, and charter schools. Their last chapter, “The Way Forward: A Call to Service,” concludes with a useful, thought-provoking list of suggestions. (Jan.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814415191
  • Publisher: AMACOM
  • Publication date: 2/1/2010
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 210
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Rod Paige, PED (Houston, TX) was the U.S. Secretary of Education from 2001-2005. He served as the Superintendent of Houston Schools for 8 years and was Dean of the College of Education at Texas Southern for 10 years. He is currently the Chairman of the Chartwell Education Group, an international consultant firm.

Elaine Witty, Ed.D. (Columbia, SC) served 18 years as Dean of Education at Norfolk StateUniversity and is a noted educator.

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Read an Excerpt

C H A P T E R 1

The Greatest Civil Rights Challenge of Our Time

If racial equality is America’s goal, reducing the black-white test score gap would probably do more to promote this goal than any other strategy that commands broad political support. Reducing the test score gap is probably both necessary and sufficient for substantially reducing racial inequality in educational attainment and earnings. Changes in education and earnings would in turn help reduce racial differences in crime, health, and family structure, although we do not know how large these effects would be.

—Christopher Jencks and Meredith Phillips,

The Black-White Test Score Gap

THE AFRICAN AMERICAN unfinished journey from chattel slavery to racial equality and social justice in America has been, and continues to be, a long and arduous struggle. Although many dangerous and deadly barriers have imperiled this journey, none has been able to stand up to the power and determination of authentic African American leadership. No barrier—

whether embedded in law, rooted in social or economic custom, or enforced by racial terror—has been able to hold firm against the powerful and unwavering commitment to advancement of a determined, authentic African

American leadership. One by one, each primary barrier standing in the way of African American advancement has been confronted and defeated by a resolute African American leadership culture. That is, until now.

Now, the African American journey to racial equality and social justice is jeopardized by a different kind of barrier. Perhaps because this is a different kind of barrier, it’s virtually overlooked by contemporary African

American leadership culture and has yet to be identified as a major civil rights problem. Now, the primary barrier impeding progress toward our twin goals of racial equality and social justice isn’t the clearly visible objects of oppression of yesteryear. Today’s primary barrier appears much more innocuous and much more subtle. In a way, it’s almost invisible to society at large, and unlike segregation, slavery, and discrimination a which were imposed intentionally by a racist society, no one is forcing this barrier to exist—yet it’s there. Today’s primary barrier is the black–

white achievement gap.

On almost every measure of academic performance, be it the SAT, ACT a or state-mandated examinations, African American student performance trails, by large margins, that of their white peers. The average African

American public school twelfth grader’s performance on academic measures approximates that of the average white eighth grader. Not only do

African American students trail their white peers on academic tests, they also experience much higher college dropout rates and a tendency to shy away from majoring in the hard sciences and mathematics.

To overcome today’s primary barrier, a new kind of thinking, a new kind of strategy, and a new kind of leadership will be required. To overcome the barriers of yesteryear, we had to confront and overcome clearly identifiable oppressive laws, tyrannical customs, and racially repressive practices. Today’s primary barrier may, in a sense, be more difficult to confront than previous barriers, because defeating it will require African

Americans to face up to and overcome an apparent unwillingness to look inward for solutions to problems. Contemporary African American leadership culture attributes almost 100 percent of African American disadvantage to outward causes. Effectively confronting today’s primary barrier may be more difficult precisely because it will require African Americans to accept ownership of the achievement gap as a civil rights problem. It will require an understanding that the problem cannot be solved without authentic African American leadership.

There are many reasons why African American leadership must consider the academic achievement gap to be a serious civil rights issue. But of all the compelling reasons, two stand out. First, the black–white achievement gap provides major support to the theory of inferiority, i.e. a the gap exists because black students are inherently academically inferior to white students. Second, it is a primary impediment to the development of African American wealth.

We chose to begin this chapter with a quote from Christopher Jencks and Meredith Phillips’ powerful volume The Black-White Test Score Gap because it so succinctly conveys our central premise: closing the black–

white achievement gap would do more to advance African Americans toward our long-sought-after goals of racial equality and social justice in

America than any civil rights strategy available to us today. In part that is because of the hard and good work that has already been done. We have accomplished much. But there is more to do.

The achievement gap is not a new challenge. Almost a century has passed since the problem was first identified and quantified by the United

States Army when it began to use large-scale mental testing to assess recruits. The results showed that white recruits outscored their black peers by substantial margins.

In the years since, countless studies and surveys have reinforced and expanded on these early findings. We know now, for example, that differences in language and math skills appear by the time that children enter kindergarten, and those differences persist into adulthood. And as we will see later, we know more and more each year about the gap’s underlying factors and causes of these differences.

Despite our growing knowledge base about the gap in the academic community, little of this new knowledge has made its way into the general public, and consequently, the sense of public awareness of the gap’s magnitude and consequences has created little sense of public alarm. This lack of intense public concern is, in our view, a major reason why on a national basis, we have made relatively little progress in closing the achievement gap. Results from the National Assessment of Educational

Progress (NAEP) and other studies show that while the black–white achievement gap has narrowed in some subject areas since 1970, the average

African American student still scores below 75 percent of white students on most standardized tests.1 And while individual schools sprinkled across the nation have succeeded in eliminating the gap—proving that it can, in fact, be done—no large district or state has yet done so.

To remind ourselves of how a national thrust of education would help close the achievement gap, let us revisit the 1970s and 1980s, when on a national basis the gap began to close (unfortunately, the narrowing of the gap stopped in the early 1990s). The 1970s and 1980s stand out in

American history as an important period in the nation’s trek toward racial harmony. It was a period when many major national efforts to reduce poverty, equalize opportunity, and achieve social justice, which had begun just prior to this period, began to bear fruit:

 School desegregation driven by the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education

 The 1964 Civil Rights Act

 The 1965 Voting Rights Act

 The 1965 federally funded Head Start program

 The 1965 enactment of the Elementary and Secondary Education

Act (the eighth reauthorization, in January 2002, is referred to as the No Child Left Behind Act)

 State and federally funded compensatory programs for elementary school with high enrollments of low-income children

 Affirmative action policies for admission to colleges, universities a and professional schools

The 1970s, 1980s, and the years leading up to them were rife with legislation and activity designed to equalize opportunity for all Americans a but arguably they benefited African Americans most. Consistent with the view that environmental factors are foremost in influencing academic performance a many scholars and researchers believe those changes in the economic and social environment of African Americans narrowed the gap during this period.

However, while having lived through this period as young African

American adults who were deeply involved in the education of African

Americans, we would like to offer a different point of view. We contend that, while African American students did in fact benefit from improvements in their economic environment during this period, the prevailing attitude about education in the African American community was the main driver of educational improvements. The attitude about education in the African American community at that time was much like that of the freed slaves just after the Thirteenth Amendment outlawed slavery in

1865. Recall that the freed slave’s thirst for education was intense during this period. Freed slaves rushed into any educational institution they could find. Many, even most, of the historically black colleges and universities trace their origins back to that period when education was viewed as the key to freedom in the black community.

Although the period of the 1970s and 1980s was much shorter and the quest for education in the African American community was perhaps less intense, it was strong nonetheless. The African American community was still glowing from the high hopes emanating from the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Expectations were high for African American advancement. Freedom’s bells were ringing. With the possibility for advancement in the air, more opportunities to vote, better funding for schools, and more African Americans running for elected offices, schools were beginning to address the “all deliberate speed” mandate, and school desegregation was picking up speed. It was a period of hope; and education a as Malcolm X stated, was viewed as the passport to freedom. The power of education rang from the pulpits of the black churches; it was discussed in black social settings and work sites. We offer no empirical evidence; this was just how we experienced that period. If you need more evidence, just ask other African Americans who lived through this period.

We should not be at all surprised, therefore, at the educational progress African American students made. During this period, African

Americans’ interest in education was heightened. It was a solution to oppression. So why did the air go out of the balloon during the early

1990s and how do we recapture it for contemporary students so that we can continue to narrow the gap? That is the challenge we face today.

Closing the black–white achievement gap is an urgent task. In Chapter 3

we provide extended justification for our belief that eliminating it would promote racial equality, sharply increase black college graduation rates a reduce racial disparities in men’s earnings, probably eliminate racial disparities in women’s earnings, and allow selective colleges and employers to phase out racial preferences.

Every one of these goals is critically important. If you are not so sure eliminating racial preferences is a good idea, recall that in its landmark ruling on affirmative action at the University of Michigan Law School in

2003, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor stated that within the next twenty-five years there would be no more need for affirmative action.2 Since many major colleges and universities use affirmative policies to assist minority enrollment, losing these policies would reduce minority enrollment in these schools. This reduction in African American enrollment can only be offset by preparing African American students to compete and win admission to these prestigious institutions on the same bases as other students.

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Table of Contents

Contents

Foreword by Kevin P. Chavous

Preface

Acknowledgments

CHAPTER 1: The Greatest Civil Rights Challenge of Our Time

CHAPTER 2: The Facts of the Matter

CHAPTER 3: “Okay, We Have a Black–White

Achievement Gap. So What?”

CHAPTER 4: In Search of Explanations

CHAPTER 5: The Origins of the Problem

CHAPTER 6: Yes, We Can Close the Achievement Gap!

CHAPTER 7: What’s Leadership Got to Do with It?

CHAPTER 8: Today’s Shortage of Authentic

African American Leaders

CHAPTER 9: Eliminating the Achievement Gap: What Authentic

African American Leaders Must Do

CHAPTER 10: The Way Forward: A Call to Service

Conclusion

APPENDIX A: Sources for Quality Information on the Black–White Achievement Gap

APPENDIX B: Suggested Reading List on African American Leadership

Endnotes

Index

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2010

    Great resource

    Secretary Paige and Dr. Witty provided a timely and relevant analysis of the achievement gap. This book is laid out in such an easily understood manner. Great book for educators, scholars, and students.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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