NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

William Raspberry: Racial Education Gap Partly Due to Attitudes

October 6, 2003

Education, says William Raspberry, has to be actively sought and received. That may account for the academic achievement gap between blacks and whites in America.

Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom ("No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning") note that by twelfth grade, on average, black students are four years behind those who are white or Asian. Hispanics don't do much better. The late John Ogbu focused on an even more puzzling problem: the consistent underachievement of black children in affluent suburbs.

The Thernstroms acknowledge that poor funding, underprepared teachers, feelings of being an outsider and racial isolation all probably have some impact on educational outcomes. But they also point to a wide variety of schools, public and private, whose low-income, inner-city students are achieving well above the national average.

Ogbu focused on Shaker Heights, Ohio, where black parents asked him to find out why their middle-class children were lagging behind their white counterparts.

  • Shaker's black children, he found, outstrip black children everywhere else in the state -- and in much of the nation -- but white kids predominate in advanced placement and honors courses.
  • Black children, who gravitate to the easier "general education" and "college prep" courses, nonetheless racked up 80 percent of the D's and F's.
  • Black students told the researchers that, in general, their white classmates studied more, worked harder and cared more about getting good grades.

Says Ogbu: "In spite of the fact that the students knew and asserted that one had to work hard to succeed in Shaker schools, black students did not generally work hard. In fact, most appeared to be characterized by the low-effort syndrome. . . . [They] were not highly engaged in their schoolwork and homework." And their parents and communities, wittingly or not, support this nonengagement.

Source: William Raspberry, "A Gap That Won't Go Away on Its Own," Washington Post, October 6, 2003.


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