United States: Black-White educational divide no longer down to poverty?

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The explanation that African-American males perform poorly in school as a result of poverty and marginalization has been thwarted by a recent research study conducted by Council of the Great City Schools, an advocacy group for urban public schools in America. The search for explanation of the achievement gap has recently looked at other causes besides poverty.

The report, “A call for Change,” published in the New York Times, November 2010, shows that poverty alone does not explain the differences in academic performance amongst races, as poor white boys do just as well as wealthy African-American boys.

According to the findings based on the National Assessment for Educational Progress, only 12 percent of Black fourth grade boys are adept in reading, compared with 38 percent of White boys, and only 12 percent of Black eight-grade boys are proficient in math, compared with 44 percent of white boys.

The results based off a highly respected national math and reading test given to fourth and eighth graders in 2009, show that black boys on average fall behind from their earliest years.

Black mothers have a higher infant mortality rate and Black children are twice as likely as Whites to live in a home where no parent has a job. In High school, African-American boys drop out at nearly twice the rate of White boys, and their SAT scores are 104 points lower.

The achievement gap separating Black from White students in America has long been a social divide that has often divided policy makers. The Council of the Great City Schools, however, expect what they have described as a “jaw-dropping” data to spark a new sense of national urgency in America.

”There’s accumulation of evidence that there are racial differences in what kids experience before the first day of kindergarten. They have to do with a lot of sociological and historical forces.

“In order to address those, we have to be able to have conversations that people are not willing to have,” the New York Times quoted Ronald Ferguson, the director of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard, as saying.

Ferguson conversely affirmed that the key to narrowing the achievement gap is “really good teaching.”

“We have to have conversations about early childhood parenting practices; the activities that parents conduct with their 2, 3 and 4 years-olds. How much we talk to them, the ways we talk to them, the ways we enforce discipline, the ways we encourage them to think and develop a sense of autonomy,” Ferguson added.

The report urges convening a White House conference, encouraging congress to appropriate more money for schools and establishing networks of Black mentors.

The result is however criticized for not discoursing policy responses identified with a robust school reform movement that emphasizes closing failing schools, offering charter schools as alternatives and raising the quality of teachers.

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