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

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9780814415191: The Black-White Achievement Gap: Why Closing It Is the Greatest Civil Rights Issue of Our Time
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Looks at the history, causes, and consequences of the achievement gap between black and white students in the United States.

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When it comes to race in America, we must face one uncomfortable but undeniable fact. Almost 50 years after the birth of the civil rights movement, inequality still reigns supreme in our classrooms. At a time when African-American students trail their white peers on academic tests and experience high dropout rates, low college completion rates, and a tendency to shy away from majors in hard sciences and mathematics, the Black-White achievement gap in our schools has become the major barrier to racial equality and social justice in America. In fact, it is arguably the greatest civil rights issue of our time.

The Black-White Achievement Gap is a call to action for this country to face up to and confront this crisis head on. Renowned former Secretary of Education Rod Paige believes we can close this gap. In this thought-provoking book, he and Elaine Witty trace the history of the achievement gap, discuss its relevance to racial equality and social justice, examine popular explanations, and offer suggestions for the type of committed leadership and community involvement needed to close it. African-American leaders need to rally around this important cause if we are to make real progress since students’ academic performance is a function not only of school quality, but of home and community factors as well. The Black-White Achievement Gap is an unflinching and long overdue look at  the very real problem of racial disparity in our schools and what we must do to solve it.

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

From the Inside Flap:

The African American journey from slavery to racial equality and social justice in America has been, and continues to be, a long and arduous struggle. No barrier—whether embedded in law, rooted in social or economic custom, or enforced by racial terror—has ever been able to hold firm against the powerful and unwavering commitment of a determined, authentic black leadership. Yet there now exists an obstruction more subtle than past oppres­sions...and one that threatens to impede any future progress.

On almost every measure of academic performance—be it the SAT, ACT, or state-mandated examinations—African American student performance trails, by large margins, that of their white peers. In our public schools the average African American twelfth grader’s performance approximates that of the average white eighth grader. Not only do black students lag behind their white peers on academic tests, they also experience much higher college drop­out rates and tend to shy away from majoring in mathematics and the hard sciences. And while this achievement gap was first identified long ago and has since been the subject of countless studies and surveys, little public outcry has erupted—and no truly concerted effort has been made to combat it.

Unlike segregation, slavery, and discrimination, all of which were imposed intentionally by a racist society, no one is forcing this barrier to exist—yet it persists. And it has become the greatest civil rights issue of our time.

In The Black–White Achievement Gap, renowned former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige and Elaine Witty provide a wake-up call to black leaders and communities, urging the kind of action that is essential if this blight on African American achievement is ever to be defeated. They trace the history of the achievement gap, discuss its relevance to racial equality and social justice, examine popular explanations, and offer strong suggestions for the type of committed leadership and community involvement that are needed to close it.

Is the achievement gap the fault of the educational system, and of schools themselves? Is a lack of drive and ambition on the part of African American students to blame? Does the gap result from unstable families and poor parenting skills? Or is it a consequence of heredity or environment? Some would argue that the cause of this academic disparity lies in poor choices of role models and negative peer pressure—the notion that diligent study is a way of “acting white.” Other factors confusing the issue are high levels of teen pregnancies, drugs, and crime in the black community.

One thing is certain. The achievement gap that now exists between black and white students has consequences both dramatic and far-reaching. It strengthens the stereotype that blacks are inferior. It slows down the accumulation of African American wealth. And it ultimately leads to more African Americans without health insurance, in prison, and dying early.

The Black–White Achievement Gap convincingly argues that closing this gap would do more to advance African Americans toward long-sought-after goals of racial equality and social justice in America than any other civil rights strategy available today. The time for complacency is over, and an era of accountability —on the part of leaders, families, and communities —must begin. This book is a rallying cry for every American eager to bridge the gap of inequality and move this country forward.

Rod Paige was the U.S. Secretary of Education from 2001 to 2005. He was Dean of the College of Education at Texas Southern University for ten years. He served as the Superintendent of Houston Schools for eight years, and was named 2001 Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators. He lives in Houston.

Elaine Witty, Ed.D., served eighteen years as Dean of Education and nine years as Head of the Elementary Education Department at Norfolk State University. Prior to working in higher education, she taught in elementary, middle, and high school. She lives in Columbia, South Carolina.

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