At two high schools in a middle-class suburb of Chicago, white students average a 3.29 (mostly Bs) while blacks average a 2.31 (mostly Cs). Thanks to the federal No Child Left Behind Act, schools can’t be judged as successful unless all subgroups in the school are doing OK. So Oak Park High and River Forest High have been researching the reasons behind the racial achievement gap, reports the Chicago Tribune (free registration).
White kids get more coaching in how to navigate the school bureaucracy from family members and peers — how to get coveted courses and work for a higher grade. Black students reported feeling inspired by far fewer teachers than their white peers did. Some teachers and counselors don’t feel as comfortable around black students and make assumptions about their ability based on behavior and other biases.
Grade inflation may be a factor: Whites earn higher grades than their standardized test scores would predict, while blacks’ grades correlate with their scores. Researchers suggested whites, especially in honors classes, receive overly generous grades. (Blacks who take honors classes also earn lower grades than white classmates.)
The high schools are clustering black students in advanced classes, so they won’t feel isolated. Minority students with decent test scores are being encouraged to take honors courses, and offered extra help. In addition, mentors now meet with new ninth graders who did poorly in middle school — two-thirds of the group are black males — to provide academic help and practical advice.
“I talked to them about playing the game in class, making eye contact with the teacher, taking notes, bringing in the textbook, being on time,” (teacher Michael) Mitchell said.
Not exactly rocket science, is it? But some students feel that pleasing the teacher is a threat to their black identity.