Why do middle-class black students fall behind their white and Asian-American classmates? Time Magazine looks at the gap.
For example, Ann Arbor spends $9,234 per student; “the vast majority of students come from homes in which at least one parent is college educated.” Yet “the grade average for black kids is a C, a whole grade below the B for whites. And African-Americans are almost four times as likely to fail a class.”
Nationally, black students in the class of 2004 scored 104 points lower than whites on the math SAT and 98 points lower on the verbal section. In the past, the academic-achievement gap has been attributed to the economic and social disparities between black kids attending inner-city schools and white kids going to those in the suburbs.
But differences in achievement persist in well-funded, well-integrated districts where most black students come from middle-class families.
After studying the difficulties of black students in middle-class Shaker Heights, Ohio, in 1997, John Ogbu, an anthropologist at the University of California, Berkeley, posited that academic achievement for those black students was hindered by cultural attitudes, most notably the fear of being labeled as “acting white” if they performed well or studied too much in school.
Even in the affluent suburbs, black students tend to come from families that are less securely middle-class, observes Ronald Ferguson, a Harvard government professor.
Academically, there were few differences between the races in terms of time kids spent on homework, their desire to do well, their interest in their studies or their perceptions of how their peers valued achievement. Yet black students completed less of their assignments than did their white classmates.
Ferguson encourages teachers to keep expectations high for black students, and keep pushing them to stick with difficult classes. He also wants black parents to push their children harder, provide more books, computers and other educational resources and be more involved in their children’s schools.
According to the College Board, 1,877 African American students nationwide scored higher than 1300 out of a possible 1600 on the SAT last year, compared with nearly 150,000 students overall who achieved that score. Minority students with higher SAT scores have become the target of frenzied competition between state and private colleges.
So much of the affirmative action debate is about where the top 5 percent of black and Hispanic students should go to college. I worry about those kids with a C or D average. Nearly all have the ability to succeed — if they get their act together.