Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Reducing the Gap: Success for All and the Achievement of African American Students

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Reducing the Gap: Success for All and the Achievement of African American Students

Article excerpt

Success for All is a comprehensive reform model that uses cooperative learning, tutoring, family support services, and extensive professional development to help high-poverty schools succeed with their students. This article reviews research on Success for All with African American students, focusing on evidence that Success for All reduces the achievement gap between African American and White students. More than 40 studies, including a national randomized experiment, have found positive effects of Success for All in schools serving many African Americans. Implications of these findings for policy and practice are discussed.

From 1994 to 2004, the Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed at Risk (CRESPAR), located at Howard University and Johns Hopkins University, conducted research on a wide variety of potential solutions to the achievement problems of students placed at risk. This included development and evaluation of programs for high-poverty schools at the preschool, elementary, middle, and high school levels; policies designed to help high-poverty schools; school, parent, and community partnerships; assessment issues for high-poverty schools; and more. CRESPAR's research was based on an assertion that all children enter school with great promise for success, but many are placed at risk due to insufficient or inappropriate responses to their unique strengths and needs. CRESPAR's goal was to provide both conceptual advances and practical solutions to substantially reduce the gap in academic performance between majority and minority students. This article summarizes research on one of the CRESPAR programs of research, focused on using the Success for All (SFA) comprehensive school reform model to address the achievement gap in elementary schooling.

THE ACHIEVEMENT GAP

The gap in academic achievement between African American (as well as Latino) children and their White peers is arguably the most important of all educational problems in the U.S. This gap, which appears early in elementary school, develops into differences in high school graduation rates, college attendance and completion, and ultimately, the differences in income and socioeconomic status (SES) that underlie the most critical social inequities.

In 1954, when Brown v. Board of Education began the process of school desegregation, social scientists confidently predicted that the racial gap in academic performance would soon be eliminated (Brown v. Board of Education, 1954). Sadly, this did not occur. According to scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, 2005), the reading achievement of White fourth graders is virtually unchanged since the earliest national assessments in 1971. During the 1970s, African American and Latino students made significant progress on NAEP reading, but there has been little further change since the early 1980s. In subjects other than reading, there have been some gains overall, but significant gaps in performance still exist today and are not diminishing.

The gap reduction seen in the 1970s is important in demonstrating that the achievement gap is not immutable, but can be changed on a national scale. Many explanations for this period of progress have been advanced, but the greatest likelihood is simply that schooling for African American children went from abysmal to merely bad. This was the period when the country saw the first fruits of Great Society programs, such as Title I, desegregation, and other improvements in basic schooling of African American students.

African Americans, on average, attend schools that are far less well funded than those attended by Whites; their teachers are less highly qualified, and their families are more likely to suffer from the ills of poverty, which have direct bearing on children's success in school. Some theorists (e.g., Rothstein, 2004) suggest that educational equality will not be achieved until economic and social equality is achieved, but given the dependence of SES on educational attainment, it is hard to see how economic success would precede academic success, at least, in the near future. …

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