ERIC Identifier: ED482919 Publication Date: 2003-12-00
Author: Flaxman, Erwin
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education
Closing the Achievement Gap: Two Views from Current
Research. ERIC Digest.
Historically, we have tried to raise the achievement level of low-achieving
immigrant students living in urban low-income areas, but we now recognize
that there is
an even greater gap in student achievement in schools in suburban middle-income
communities than in the inner cities, particularly at the higher achievement
(College Board, 1999). More minority students attend suburban schools
than popularly believed; in 2000, 33 percent of African-American children,
45 percent of Hispanic children, 54 percent of Asian children, and 55 percent
of white children lived in suburban areas, and they attended both poor,
segregated schools and excellent racially integrated schools with many
resources (Ferguson, 2002, p. 2).
We now have two major studies that can help us understand the achievement
suburban schools. Ronald Ferguson of the Kennedy School of Government
University analyzed the data collected by the Minority Student Achievement
formed by fifteen middle- and upper-middle-income districts throughout
the nation. To
better understand the experiences of different racial and economic
group students that
affect their academic achievement and academic engagement, the Network
middle- and high-school students in ninety-five schools in fifteen
districts using the"Ed-Excel Assessment of Secondary School Student Culture," developed
Bishop of Cornell University. The purpose of this quantitative study
was to determine
how the schools can be educationally productive in closing the achievement
gap in their
heterogeneous student bodies.
The late John Ogbu, Professor of Anthropology at the University of California
Berkeley, conducted an ethnographic study of students at all grade
levels in schools in
Shaker Heights, Ohio. The ethnographers conducting the study observed
classrooms from the start to the finish of the lesson, in classes of
(1) different racial
makeup, (2) the same subject taught at different levels, (3) different
subjects, (4) the same teachers teaching the same courses at different levels, (5) the
teaching different courses, and (6) teachers of different races and
genders. In the
elementary school, the researchers also acted as participant-observers
by assisting the
teachers with small tasks when they asked for help (Ogbu, 2003). The
purpose of this
study was to determine how the identity of African-American students
as an oppressed
group outside the opportunity structure affects their academic achievement
and their school experience more generally. This digest distills and
findings and recommendations of these two important studies.
THE FERGUSON STUDY OF THE MINORITY STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT NETWORK (FERGUSON,
Self-Reported Achievement and Skill Disparities: Black, Hispanic, and
students reported lower grade-point averages than white and Asian students.
Black and Hispanic students also reported less understanding of the lessons
being taught and less comprehension of the reading material assigned.
Socioeconomic Status and Home Learning Resources: White and Asian students
to school with more of the educational resources identified with
higher academic status
(e.g., books and computers) than their African-American and Hispanic
peers. However, these resources boost achievement less among African-American
and Hispanic students than among students of other ethnicities.
Effort: African-American and Hispanic students identified teacher encouragement
motive for their effort and substantially indicated that this encouragement
motivating than teacher demands, unlike white students, who cited demands
their minority peers. But white students also indicated that teacher
an incentive for them to make an effort to achieve.
Academic Behavior and Homework Completion Rates: By these measures whites
Asians appear more academically engaged and leave a greater impression
harder and being more interested in their studies than their African-American
Hispanic peers. However, the students in all the population groups
differed very little in
time spent studying and doing homework, except Asians, and no group
of students -
including Asians - expressed a great deal of interest in schoolwork.
Ferguson (2003) draws a number of conclusions from his research for
changes in the
behavior of teachers in the classroom and in schools generally that
can help close the
* Although teachers observe differences in academic performance and
between African-American, Hispanic, and mixed-race students on the
one hand and
white and Asian-American students on the other, in practice they should
there are no systematic group-level (as distinct from individual) differences
in effort or
motivation to succeed among the two groups (p. 18).
* Because there are observable racial and ethnic group gaps in standardized
achievement test scores and self-reported differences in comprehension
of the content
and lessons, schools should identify and respond to specific skill
and knowledge deficit
problems of particular groups.
* Because students value and respond to encouragement, teachers need
to provide it
* Schools need to provide more educational resources and learning experiences
because of student differences in advantages due to their family background.
THE OGBU ETHNOGRAPHIC STUDY (OGBU, 2003)
Opportunity Structure and Education: Many African American students
did not perceive schooling to be a preparation for future success in the
job market. They did not understand how their academic performance at one
level of schooling affects the
courses they will be able to take at a higher level of schooling, which
could lead to
greater opportunity. Further, they did not know enough about the educational
requirements for future jobs. Their role models were entertainers and
they are wealthier and more visible to them than lawyers, engineers,
professors whose success depended on their educational credentials.
Race Relations and Schooling: African-Americans felt disparaged and
in the community, despite the appearance of racial harmony, and fearful
distant from whites. As an example, whites in the community felt that
gap was due to social class differences while African-Americans maintained
that it was
the result of racism. African-American students also strongly believed
that their teachers did not "care" for them because they were not supportive,
nurturing, and encouraging. They also held teachers accountable for their
Identity and Culture: African-American students were unengaged in the
behaviors that lead to school success because to them accepting the
language, and pedagogy would mean rejecting their collective identity.
were not opposed to earning good grades although it meant being accused
of acting"white" by their peers. Many of these same students also questioned
having internalized the beliefs of others', and often acted as if they
were less intelligent
than their white peers.
Educational Strategies: African-American students recognized the need
for effort to
meet high academic standards, but chose not to apply it for reasons
noted above. They
reported that they realized that they did not work hard enough to get
good grades. They also felt that the lack of discipline and other disruptive
behavior in the classes where they were in the majority were not conducive
to learning, unlike the climate in advanced placement classes, where most
of the students were white and performed academically at a higher level.
Parents of African-American students believed that their children should
work hard to make good grades; however, they did not involve themselves
in their children's schooling by supervising the completion of homework
and the use of time or by protecting their children from negative peer
pressure. Culturally, African Americans believed that it was the role of
the school and teachers to make their children learn and perform successfully.
Finally, African-American students often were not educated in honors or
advanced placement classes because counselors in the upper elementary grades
assigned them to less academically rigorous tracks with less
academic and career rewards; further, parents did not fully understand
consequences of the placements, did not adequately prepare their children
for academic work, and did not intervene to try countermand the placements.
Based on his research, Ogbu (2003) also makes several recommendations
communities and schools like those in Shaker Heights, Ohio, for closing
* To increase African-American students' academic orientation and performance, communities need to provide supplementary education programs
using the resources of for-profit and non-profit community-based organizations
to create a parallel educational system.
* The community needs to provide academically successful role models,
recognize achievement, and encourage schools to infuse multicultural
the academic curriculum to counter students' idea that to achieve is
to act white and to
help students develop a sound self-concept and identity. The schools,
in turn, need to
develop strategies to help parents take a greater role in the academic
life of their
children, and to help them learn to be academically self-motivated
* Students need help to learn how to distinguish between short-term
educational goals in course-taking, and between courses in academic
courses that develop a cultural identity. They should also help students
to develop study habits and study skills and to resist anti-academic peer
* Teachers need to recognize that their expectations have an effect
on their students'
concept of themselves as learners and achievers and the internalization
of negative or
positive beliefs about their intelligence.
* Schools need to provide parents information on tracking practices,
differences between honors and Advanced Placement classes, regular
placement, and remedial classes. Parents also need to be helped in
teachers to monitor and effectively enhance their children's academic
A FINAL NOTE ON CLOSING THE GAP
In their conclusions about their research findings, Ferguson and Ogbu
do not differ in
their views on how schools can help minority students to be more academically
engaged and better achievers, only in emphasis. For Ferguson, the role
of the teacher
and the school is to encourage the individual student to meet the demands
work by changing classroom practices. For Ogbu, students will perform
better and be
more engaged in school if they are helped to modify parts of their
collective identity that reject school success, through caring individual
and institutional practices. This
difference of perspective is noteworthy, however. Ogbu maintains that
minority students do not participate in the opportunity structure of the
United States because they have identified with their oppressed and marginal
position in American society. For him, schools must actively alter these
students' identity as outsiders, through caring.
Ferguson, on the other hand, argues that schools need to develop interventions
improve minority students' capacity to master the learning tasks of
through academic encouragement, implying that their success will change
self-concept and identity.
College Board (1999). Reaching the top: A report of the National Task
Force on Minority High Achievement. New York: Author. (ED 435 765)
Ferguson, R. F. (2002). What doesn't meet the eye: Understanding and
racial disparities in high-achieving suburban schools. Cambridge, MA:
University, John F. Kennedy School of Government. (ED 474 390)
Ogbu, J. U. (2003). Black American students in an affluent suburb: A
study of academic disengagement. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum. (ED 476
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