Educating Black Boys: Where Are the Parents?

The education achievement gap between black and white boys can be blamed on many things, but the trouble starts at home.

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Recent studies show that little white boys who go to school hungry still perform better on achievement tests than black boys who come from privileged homes.

If that's truly the case, then black parents who wonder why there's such a wide gap in grades and test results between the races have only themselves to blame.

According to a deflating assessment of black boys' scholastic status nationwide, a stable home is no guarantee of success. This comes as troubling news to households like mine -- where Mommy and Daddy have overextended themselves to make sure their first-grader attains every educational advantage available in an inner-city setting.

Of course schools must be held more accountable when there's proof that black boys rank far below whites in basic assessments. But the new data -- and experts' opinions on how to counteract the problem -- highlight more than ever that black parents aren't emphasizing schoolwork enough.

The Council of the Great City Schools' recent report about discrepancies between black and white boys' scores on math and reading tests paints a dire picture of what the future holds. Culled from disturbing data accumulated by the National Assessment for Educational Progress, the report suggests that even the few Fresh Princes among us are likely to perform worse in school than their Slim Shady peers. More forebodingly, the council's "Call for Action" report cites congressional intervention as a prime solution to the educational crisis.

Just how likely are the Tea Partiers taking hold in Congress to address the plight of black boys in the coming years? And if President Barack Obama dared to pick up the mantle on behalf of a generation of boys whose educational prospects appear dimmer now than they did during the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka era, how would stingy conservatives react?

The findings -- which the council calls "jaw-dropping" -- spark debate among academics, social-policy experts and bloggers over what's actually causing the drastic achievement gap, and whether there's a viable solution.

While it's treated as a given that the preponderance of black boys being raised by (overwhelmed and underaged) single mothers can negatively influence scholastic achievement rates, the NAEP test results from boys in the fourth through eighth grades show that economic status doesn't matter. According to the data, white boys from families receiving public assistance perform just as well as, or better than, black boys from families that don't.

The data show that while 38 percent of white boys in the fourth grade are proficient readers, only 12 percent of black boys are. Forty-four percent of whites are proficient at math, compared with only 14 percent of blacks. Data regarding high school dropout rates and college matriculation contribute further to a dismal picture.

What's going on? Dr. Robin Saunders, president of the Multicultural Education Consultants group, told me that the gap won't narrow until teachers are retrained to respond to the racial sensitivities that black boys carry to the classroom. "If they bring a 'white cloud' card home from school because they had a good day, and a 'black cloud' goes home because they had a bad day, what does that say to the child?" Dr. Saunders pondered.

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