The African American Achievement Gap: Policy Strategies and Solutions

Author: Dr. Bruce Jones, Professor of Education, University of South Florida

January 28, 2014

In commemoration of the 1963 Civil Rights Movement March on Washington, D.C., the We CARE Campaign in partnership with the Urban League Consortium of Florida sponsored a series of town hall meetings across the state of Florida. The town hall meetings, which were held in Miami, Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, St. Petersburg, Orlando, Jacksonville, and Tallahassee, featured a panel of educators and citizens in each community who engaged in substantive dialogue on how to collectively improve the academic achievement of African American children in the state. 

What the Data Says

In 2011, the David C. Anchin Center at the University of South Florida released a report entitled, Florida’s First Comprehensive Conditions of Education Report. Based on the data in the report, African American children in Florida are at the bottom of all educational achievement indicators for reading and mathematics academic scores and graduation and dropout rates. In mirroring the nation, African American children in Florida are woefully underrepresented in programs for the gifted and talented and overrepresented in special education.

Reading and Mathematics Performance

In the seven Florida counties that house the largest percentage of African American students, only 23% of 10th graders are proficient or reading at grade level and only 50% of African American 10th graders in these counties are mathematically proficient, according to FCAT scores.

Chronically Low-Performing Schools

It should also be noted that in 2011, there were 41 schools in Florida that were designated as chronically low-performing. Chronically low-performing schools consist of those schools that failed to achieve academic proficiency in reading and mathematics for at least two consecutive years. In 2011, well over half of the 41 chronically low-performing schools in Florida had minority student enrollments that exceeded 90%. In fact, 23 of the 41 chronically low-performing schools had minority student enrollments that were between 98% and 100%.

Policy Strategies and Solutions - Collective Effort and Responsibility

“Collectively" is the operative word. At each town hall meeting it was generally recognized that schools alone cannot change the structural failure of society and the adults in our communities to address the dismal achievement of schools that house predominantly African American student populations. At the broadest and most philosophical level, adults and children at all strata of society need to recognize the value of public education in the global economy and the benefits that accrue for the U.S. sociopolitical economy when all children, as opposed to some, are educated in a way that allows them to reach their fullest potential.

At a more specific level, collective strategies that seek to advance strong and effective school leadership, high quality teacher preparation, and teacher classroom efficacy must be developed and sustained as deeply embedded activities in high-need schools. Collective strategies must also be promoted that advance parental and/or guardian engagement in the school mission to promote African American student academic success. Lastly, collective strategies require strategic resource investments in the schooling of African American children from the education establishment and the business and philanthropic sectors as well as the nonprofit faith-based and social services communities. These investments must focus on helping schools to advance the academic mission in the core academic subject areas such as math, reading, science and history. Advancement efforts must also include a focus on supporting enrichment programming that include the arts, music, athletics and organized after-school student clubs. Too often enrichment programs get shortchanged in schools with predominant African American student enrollments.

The late Stephen Covey, author of the nationally renowned book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, once stated, “All organizations are perfectly aligned to get the results they get.” In light of the dominant public sentiment expressed at the Urban League town hall meetings, the quote by Covey needs to be turned into an essential question: How can we collectively design, develop and administer our schools so that we get the results that we want to eliminate the African American achievement gap? When you reflect on or read about the groundbreaking success of the 1963 Civil Rights Movement March on Washington the word “collective” was the operative word then and remains the operative word – now more than ever.

Dr. Bruce Jones is a Professor of Education at the University of South Florida. His areas of research and practice are educational leadership and policy studies, and cultural competence and organizational assessment in K-12 and higher education settings.


Category: Education Excellence

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