Should African Americans Support the Current Educational Reform Standards Movement?

Article excerpt

This article explores whether African Americans should support the current education reform/ standards movement. It examines the historical perspective of the struggle by African American students from the 1950s through the 1990s to achieve academic excellence and why that goal has been so elusive. A critical review of issues such as opportunity to learn, tracking, and students' perceptions of the standards movement as impediments is also provided. In addition, the role of colleges and universities in the standards movement is also discussed. Finally, specific recommendations are proposed to assure that African Americans are involved in and benefit from the strengthening of the education system as a result of the implementation of common academic standards.

The current reform movement to require standards that students must meet at every level of the education system has been underway for approximately 15 years. Trends indicate that the movement is growing every day. Because of its scope, it is probably one of the most comprehensive reform efforts in the history of American education. Governors, top state and national legislators, business and foundation leaders, and many educators have been at the forefront of the movement.

But, at the grassroots level the movement has been controversial. The implications of the standards are so far reaching, various groups have applauded the movement but been troubled by some of its consequences. The African American community, in particular, has raised questions about the movement. Some members of the African American community have said "No" to the movement because they believe that African Americans have the most to lose by it. Others, including the authors, say "Yes" to the movement because African American students have the most to gain by supporting standards based education reforms. As African Americans, we cannot afford to oppose the current educational standards movement that is sweeping the nation. Our support of the standards movement, however, has a requirement that our children must be prepared for whatever evaluations or accountability methods accompany the standards.

Recent articles in the New York Times (Belluck, 1999) and Education Week (Cross, 1998) have focused on why the academic achievement of Black students continues to lag behind that of other students. These are but two publications that raise concern about low academic performance of students from language and racial minority groups. Many other publications have come to similar conclusions. No one is saying that all African American students perform poorly in academic courses or fail to score well on standardized tests. To the contrary, many African Americans do extremely well in these courses and on the subsequent tests that follow. However, within the African American community, and now seemingly within the larger community, there is a concern about the persistent gap between the academic performance of Black students compared to that of other students, especially White students. More recently, socioeconomic factors have come to play a critical role in this debate. For instance, with the growing improvements in the economic status of African American families, the question of "why the academic achievemen', of Black middle-class and upper income students lags behind Whites, especially those of comparable socioeconomic status" (Belluck, 1999, p. 1) has been raised. This is not a new question. It is one that has plagued the African American community for generations and will continue to do so unless we develop strategies to close the achievement gap.

Achieving academic excellence is a particular issue to African American parents who are concerned about the educational achievements of their children. According to "Time to Move on: African American and White Parents Set an Agenda for Public Schools" (Bradley, 1998), academic achievement for African American students is at a crisis point. …