Ronald Ferguson is a Harvard professor who has spent years visiting racially mixed public high schools. Part of what he does is academic, measuring the causes of the achievement gap in America’s schools by annually surveying the performance, behaviors and attitudes of up to 100,000 students.
His research indicates that half the gap can be predicted by economics: Even in a typical wealthy suburb, blacks are not as well-to-do; 79 percent are in the bottom 50 percent financially, while 73 percent of whites are in the top 50 percent.
The other half of the gap, he has calculated, is that black parents on average are not as academically oriented as whites in raising their children. In a wealthy suburb he surveyed, 40 percent of blacks owned 100 or more books, compared with 80 percent of whites. In first grade, the percentage of black and white parents reading to their children daily was about the same; by fifth grade, 60 percent to 70 percent of whites still read daily to their children, compared with 30 percent to 40 percent of blacks.
He also works with teachers to identify biases, such as that black children are less likely to complete homework because they are lazy. His research indicates that blacks and whites spend the same amount of time on homework, but blacks are less likely to finish. “It’s not laziness,” he says. “It’s a difference in skills.”
How these messages get delivered is crucial. “I don’t want to be another one of those people lecturing black parents,” he says. “I tell them we in the black community — we — need to build stronger intellectual lives at home.”
Hear, hear. Someone is finally addressing all of the factors ,including the cultural factors that impact achievement in education. Ferguson’s research shows that there are things that the black community can do to help close the achievement gap. The question becomes, are we willing to do it?
Read more at the New York Times.
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