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African American Achievement Gap

April 27, 2011 2 comments

The African American achievement gap is one of the most pressing problems in U.S. education today. The No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law by President George W. Bush in January 2002, greatly increases pressure on states to address the achievement gap in public schools, requiring them to publish test score seperately for racial and ethnic groups and to work to eliminate gaps in achievement. Achievement gap is a contemporary expression used to refer to the differences in the academic performance of subpopulations of students. The African American achievement gap has not closed, although progress is being made. Research literature provides substantial evidence of differences betweeb African Americans and Whites along a number of dimensions ranging from socioeconomic status to academic attainment.

Although some Black students are doing well academically on predominantly White college campuses, many often exhibit a marked decrease in performance from their high school grades over and beyond what is generally expected for adjustment to college-level work. Higher education unlocks many doors to economic, professional, and social opportunities. Student’s educational outcomes are a function of their family background, cognitive abilities, quality of prior schooling, and learning-style preferences. However, prior research suggests that status attainment and human capital variables do not fully explain the gap. Many educators assert that culture impacts learning and achievement, and that changes in higher education are needed based on the richness found in all cultures. The African American cultural orientation suggests that many Black students will perform best in learning environments that are holistic, field-dependent, and high-context. Holistic is characterized by harmony, cooperation, affect, socialization, and community, with relational and creative learning relevant to one’s own experiences. Field-dependent emphasizes learning from a global perspective and the social, interactive aspects of learning. High-context relies on nonverbal, indirect, implicit, and informal communication; high personal, relational commitment; social time orientation; importance of comprehensive thinking versus analytical thinking. Closing the achievement gap in higher education entails considering the varying influences of both African American and hip-hop cultural influences upon Black college students. Excellent schools possess an ethos in which academic success and effort are important. The school must do its part to remove or reduce the impact of challenges faced by minority students by providing a strong social support system that values and promotes academic achievement, and by providing academic and “socioemotional” system to assist students understanding of self, diversity, and their talents. Lastly an important obstacle to closing the achievement gap is the present attitude of many school administrators and faculty members at PWIs, who are more likely to make stereotypical attributions by associating deficits with blacks and superior achievement with whites. Administrators and faculty must learn to regard existing racial and ethnic achievement patterns as unnatural. Those who have a deficit frame of reference turn the focus of the achievement gap away from their own attitudes, beliefs, and practices to those of students. They externalize the problem and fail to see how changes within themselves could help close the gap. The focus of their attitudes, beliefs, and practices must move away from deficit-thinking to equity-thinking. Organizational learning is required to bring about changes in the cognitive frames of individuals so that “the knowledge production itself may become the form of mobilization” that induces individuals to make the cognitive shift (Gaventa & cornwall, 2001, p.76).

The African American achievement gap has not closed. Continued efforts to close the academic achievement gap are essential if we are to have a society characterized by social equity. School administrators and faculty members can help achieve this goal. The achievement gap represents a complex problem with many causes both internal and external to the school. However, African Americans are not monolithic regarding their personal characteristics and preferences. Although many African Americans have similar learning styles and cognitive preferences, theses preferences are not universal among all African Americans.

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