The Black-White Achievement Gap

A Call to Overcome Today’s
Major Barrier to Racial Equality
and Social Justice

More than half a century after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling, inequality still reigns supreme in America’s classrooms. Based on results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and other studies, African American students score below 75 percent of white students on most standardized tests. Not coincidentally, young white adults are approximately twice as likely as their black peers to earn a college degree, and nearly three times less likely to land in prison. In critical academic matters, why do black American children overwhelmingly lag behind white American children? And what are the long-term economic, social, and racial ramifications for our country if we continue to overlook this deeply distressing reality?

“It’s an undeniable truth that we have a serious educational problem in America,” states distinguished former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige. In THE BLACK-WHITE ACHIEVEMENT GAP: Why Closing It Is the Greatest Civil Rights Issue of Our Time (AMACOM; February 16, 2010; $22.00 Hardcover), he joins forces with educational practitioner and advocate Elaine Witty to identify the causes of this racial divide and propose realistic, productive solutions. “Now is the time to see the gap as what it really is: a major barrier to racial equality and social justice in America,” Paige stresses. He calls on African American leaders at all levels—national, state, city, town, and church—to take ownership of this challenge and work with policy makers, educators, community groups, and parents to overcome it.

Establishing the facts of this racial problem, with hard-hitting data on test scores, high school dropout rates, and more, Paige and Witty then explain why it should be an urgent issue of debate for presidents of historically black colleges, organizations such as the NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus, and national think tanks, among others. The persistence of the black-white achievement gap slows down the accumulation of African American wealth; leads to more African Americans without health insurance, in prison, and dying early; and, worst of all, strengthens the stereotype and stigma of blacks as intellectually inferior. Because of its destructive consequences, Paige and Witty argue, the achievement-gap crisis now ranks ahead of racism and discrimination as the most formidable obstacle to African American advancement.

Why do African Americans continue to suffer an educational disadvantage? What are the solutions?

THE BLACK-WHITE ACHIEVEMENT GAP not only confronts these difficult, sensitive, and important questions, but also provides concrete, timely, and bipartisan answers. To achieve the goal of closing the gap, the authors advocate:

*Rally all leaders with an authentic commitment to racial equality and social justice for African Americans—liberal and conservative, black and white—to enlist in the cause of eliminating the achievement gap and stop engaging in activities that perpetuate it, including focusing on the legacy of slavery and associating the endeavor to do well in school with “acting white.”

*Embrace the view that home and family, community environment, and school quality all play a vital role in determining children’s educational possibilities. Work together to design and implement gap-closing intervention strategies beyond the school—such as tutoring and reading workshops for parents—as well as within them.

*Create a consistently high standard of school quality nationwide—and hold school board officials, school superintendents and principals, and classroom teachers accountable for meeting it—backed by the belief that all children, regardless of their socioeconomic status or ZIP code, can learn and excel in school.

Throughout, Paige and Witty offer inspiring examples of outstanding schools, proven educational initiatives and community programs, and specific suggestions for how national organizations, local civic and religious groups, and dedicated parents can make a decisive difference in the education and future of today’s African American children.

A clarion call to civil rights leadership, THE BLACK WHITE ACHIEVEMENT GAP is also a wake-up call for leaders, citizens, and parents of all races. “By closing the black-white achievement gap, we will be eliminating many disparities between blacks and whites,” Paige and Witty observe, “thereby creating a better America.”

ROD PAIGE was U.S. Secretary of Education from 2001 through 2005 under President George W. Bush. He served as Superintendent of Houston Schools for eight years and was Dean of the College of Education at Texas Southern University for 10 years. He currently serves as a board member to numerous foundations, corporations, and non-profit organizations working to advance education in the United States and around the world. He lives in Houston, Texas.

ELAINE WITTY, Ed.D, served 18 years as Dean of Education at Norfolk State University and is a noted educator. Prior to working in higher education, she taught in elementary, middle, and high schools. She lives in Columbia, South Carolina.

Brother and sister, the coauthors bring a combined ninety years of experience spanning the educational spectrum, from teaching to school administration to policy circles, to the opinions expressed and actions proposed in THE BLACK-WHITE ACHIEVEMENT GAP.