The Will to Change

It will take more than Band-Aids to close the educational achievement gap,author warns.

Theories abound about how to level the playing field in education and in society so that all our children come out of school with similar knowledge, skills and competence, and it seems as if new books on the topic cross our editors’ desks every day. The more the merrier until the achievement gap or test score gap is no longer an issue for Black and Hispanic students. The following book offers new perspectives and fresh approaches.

Toward Excellence With Equity: An Emerging Vision for Closing the Achievement Gap by Dr. Ronald F. Ferguson, $29.95 (paperback), Harvard Education Press (January 2008), ISBN-10: 1891792784, ISBN-13: 978-1891792786, pp. 375.

While many educators, policymakers and citizens remain bogged down in debates over who is responsible for causing and for wiping out differences in educational achievement, Ronald F. Ferguson calls on all of us to do something. He envisions a new “movement” focused on better results for all students — and not just because it would benefit Blacks and Hispanics, but also because it is good for the country. “Working to raise achievement levels for all segments of the population is a key to keeping America strong and vital,” he writes in the introduction.

If Blacks and Hispanics are left behind at the end of their schooling, are schools to blame? Yes. Are parents to blame? Yes. Are students themselves to blame? Yes. Are governments to blame? Yes. That said, the message here seems to be, let us get on with fixing it.

Ferguson is the faculty co-chair and director of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University, and the founder and director of the Tripod Project for school improvement. He became interested in this work while studying the gaps in wages that were widening between Blacks and Whites in the ’70s and ’80s and discovering links to educational gaps.

In this book, which pulls together Ferguson’s essays investigating the root causes and possible solutions, he looks at masses of data on test scores, teacher training, perceptions, social trends and policies that affect what goes on inside schools and inside students’ heads. In explaining them, he does not seem to be skittish about delicate matters. On parental beliefs and norms or practices that may not encourage excellence, he says: “Inducing people to raise their children differently is not easy, but if we can successfully influence parents to do so within the context of a national movement for excellence with equity, I believe the impact on improving achievement levels and closing achievement gaps could be significant.”

Some programs to improve schools have not worked, he argues, because teachers trained in them simply never put strategies into action once they were back in the classroom. He is equally frank about how racism and elitism factor into the educational process.

“Indeed, America may never cast off completely the ideology of White supremacy,” he says.

In defining the movement he foresees, Ferguson notes that the keys to higher achievement are high-quality parenting, teaching, peer contacts and community supports.

“Success is achievable,” he concludes. “We need to redouble our efforts to make it happen. The stakes are high.”

New Releases:

O u t s i d e r s Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown v. Board, by Dr. Elwood Watson, $65, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. (May 2008), ISBN-10: 0742540731, ISBN-13: 978-0742540736, pp. 160.

Real Leaders, Real Schools: Stories of Success Against Enormous Odds, by Dr. Gerald C. Leader and Amy F. Stern, $26.95, Harvard Education Press (September 2008), ISBN-10: 1891792962, ISBN- 13: 978-1891792960, pp. 256.

The Gender Gap in College: Maximizing the Developmental Potential of Women and Men, by Linda J. Sax, $40, Jossey- Bass (September 2008), ISBN: 978- 0-7879-6575-4, pp. 352.

— Angela P. Dodson is an online editor of Diverse: Issues in Higher Education.

Email the editor: editor@diverseeducation.com

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