Educational Experts Discuss the Achievement Gap for Blacks

04/20/07 Brandon Martin
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Yesterday the University of South Florida's Institute on Black Life and the Florida Education Fund co-sponsored a symposium focusing on the achievement gap between African American students and their racial counterparts. Brandon Martin reports.

The symposium, entitled "The Achievement Gap: Stratagies and Solutions," hosted a number of educational experts who addressed the causes of the achievement gap and ways to eliminate it.

First off, what is the achievement gap? This discrepancy in academic performance between blacks and other ethnicities is shown by a high dropout rate, fewer blacks in honors and college-prep courses than other ethnicities, fewer blacks matriculating to college, the low scores on the FCAT when compared to whites or Hispanics, and low reading, writing, and math levels in general.

Otis Anthony, who is Senior Director of Minority Relations for the Polk County School District (as well as co-host of WMNF's Sunday Forum), mentioned that the high school graduation rate for African Americans in Polk County is 56%. He also spoke about language and math skills for students of color.

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There is a labyrinth of problems involved with the achievement gap. But there is one alleged circumstance thst is not a part of it. Dr. H. Roy Kaplan, Associate Professor of Africana Studies at USF, wanted to clarify that skin color does not relate to an ability to achieve academically (or athletically). Nor does skin color relate to learning rates or capacities.

Almost everything that the speakers talked about can be attributed to four problem areas: teachers and administrators, the students and their families, society, and the educational system.

Teachers and school administrators need to be more accountable, and for all of their students. One speaker mentioned there not being enough black teachers and male teachers to serve as rolemodels for black students. Dr. Ruth Hall of the School District of Hillsborough County cited a study which stated that students are bored and feel that much of the curriculum is irrelevant to them. Because many of the teachers are white women, and because diversity training is not taught to most teachers, there is tendency to discipline blacks more with in-school and out-of-school suspension and a tendency to give less academic attention to black students who are behind academically.

In order to lessen the current amount of disciplinary measures taken, students might need more discipline. Gwendolyn Luney of the School District said that parents and families need to teach their children social mores and good behavior. She came to realize another problem with students of color.

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Low self-esteem was frequently mentioned as a reason why many black students lack the internal motivation to succeed in life. Some causes are a lack of family support, wrongful placement in special education classes, or low FCAT test scores. Negative labels easily tell students that they're not as good as other students.

Within the educational system there are faults that allow this gap to continue. Doretha Edgecomb, a School District Board member, points to one problem.

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Another fault of schools is to value the outcome more than the process, such as trumpeting test scores. Regardless, L. C. Bradley of the Columbia County School District defends tests like the FCAT.

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Society's largest contribution to the problem would be the residues of slavery, discrimination, prejudice that are still a burden on all children. Economic disparities cause some children to lag behind academically as well as in other aspects.

Well, what do we do? The speakers all felt that high expectations, such as completing a rigorous pre-college curriculum, need to be held for all. Faith-based initiatives, such as tutoring sessions run by churches, would get students as well as communities involved in education. Most important is early intervention measures, such as mandatory pre-k programs, which will create an equal start for all people.

For WMNF, this is Brandon Martin.

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