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Scholars Cite History’s Legacy, Rap Music for Achievement Gap


Dr. Glenn C. Loury is losing sleep over the achievement gap between Blacks and Whites in public schools. But it’s not merely low test scores in the nation’s grammar and middle schools that disturbs him. It is America’s political leaders, who are leaving the job of fixing the nation’s racial disparities to educators alone.

“I feel like a move is being made,” said Loury, “to change the definition of the problem to something that is not amenable to political treatment.”

Loury, a Brown University economics professor, made his remarks last week in an address to education experts at the Second Annual Conference of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University.

Harvard launched the Achievement Gap Initiative last year to study the differences among racial groups, which are greatest between Blacks and Whites, according to many of the statistics presented at the conference.

The causes of the gap — as reflected by standardized test scores and high school and college dropout rates — “are a legacy of a history,” said Loury, in an apparent reference to institutions such as slavery and segregation and the redlining of school districts. “The achievement gap is a deeply rooted reflection of a thousand different forces [including] the deeply entrenched segregation of our lives,” he said.

Strictly educational fixes to the Black-White gap have borne only limited results. School desegregation, changing early parenting behaviors, increasing classroom learning times and master’s degree requirements for K-12 teachers were among the possible tactics discussed at the conference.

Some education experts at the conference said the No Child Left Behind Act is partly responsible for putting educators “in a pickle,” as University of California, Berkeley education professor W. Norton Grubb put it. “Yes, schools need to be reformed,” said Grubb, “but we also need urban development and health and welfare policies.”

Political leaders and social scientists also need to attack cultural influences on Black kids, said Dr. Ronald F. Ferguson, senior research associate at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government’s Wiener Center for Social Policy Research and director of the Achievement Gap Initiative.

Ferguson even suggested that rap music may be behind a recent broadening of the gap.

Black and Hispanic teenagers made dramatic gains in academic achievement throughout the 1970s and 1980s, according to statistics cited by Ferguson. But that progress ended abruptly in the late 1980s, when leisure reading levels and class attendance for Blacks plunged.

The Black-White gap in reading scores in the U.S. Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress also declined suddenly after 1988. The gap grew to more than 37 points by 1992, according to Education Department’s figures.

“It may just be a coincidence,” said Ferguson, “but 1988-1992 was the commercial take-off period for hip-hop and rap music.”

Other differences in the social structures and lifestyles of racial groups are contributing to the gap, added Harvard assistant professor of economics Roland G. Fryer.

— The complete version of this article will appear in the July 13 issue of Diverse.

Reader comments on this story:

There are currently 3 reader comments on this story:

“call a spade a spade”
The problem needs to be addressed from within the black community itself.  Blacks are in the same schools as whites and are taught by the same teachers.  For years they have had more opportunities and have been catered to more than students of other ethnic backgrounds.  Successful blacks need to devote more time and resources to the communities from which they came in order to motivate black students and be role models for success.  Bill Cosby is one of the few blacks or whites able to call a spade a spade.

-Juanita Opperman

“saving ourselves”
Native born black Americans must first understand that nobody but we ourselves can save us. We have allowed every one else to tell us how to raise, teach and understand our own children. We are so terribly confused, we cannot agree on anything –  we only exacerbate the issues.
-James Hawkins

“The Purposeful “Mis-education” of the African American Child.”

The problems expounded in “The Mis-Education of The Negro” continue today.  We adults have not learned from our past nor bothered to insure that our children learn for the future. 

The effect of Hip Hop of 1988 to 1992 has little to do with the children of 1998 to 2002 and today.  Many of the parents of elementary & secondary school children of today graduated (finished) high school during the late 80’s and early 90’s.  These parents were not provided proper support in their newly segregated schools.  Their education was sub par.  Their experience with school administrators was not inspiring.  Therefore, they are lacking the skills needed to improve the situation for their children.  No Child Left Behind if applied in each state as defined by the Feds will place the African American school finishers in an even deeper abyss. 

      It is time to determine how to provide a better education in an inspiring setting for the future.  We know the past has failed many yet many know how to fix it.  Yes Mr. Cosby is right, he needs those with the know how to step up to the table.
-Evelyn Koine

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