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Book Review

The Black-White Achievement Gap: Why Closing It Is the Greatest Civil Rights Issue of Our Time

More than half a century after the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, inequality still persistently exists in America’s classrooms. African-American students score below 75% of white students on most standardized tests, and, not coincidentally, young white adults are approximately twice as likely as their black peers to earn a college degree, and nearly three times less likely to land in prison.

Paige and Witty argue that it should be an urgent issue of debate for presidents of historically black colleges, organizations such as the NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus, and national think tanks, among others. The persistence of the black-white achievement gap slows down the accumulation of African-American wealth; leads to more African Americans without health insurance, in prison, and dying early; and, worst of all, the authors assert, strengthens the stereotype and stigma of blacks as intellectually inferior. Because of its destructive consequences, they write, the achievement-gap crisis now ranks ahead of racism and discrimination as the most formidable obstacle to African- American advancement.

To achieve the goal of closing the gap, the authors advocate:

  • Rallying all leaders with an authentic commitment to racial equality and social justice for African Americans—liberal and conservative, black and white—to enlist in the cause of eliminating the achievement gap and stop engaging in activities that perpetuate it, including focusing on the legacy of slavery and associating the endeavor to do well in school with “acting white.”
  • Embracing the view that home and family, community environment, and school quality all play a vital role in determining children’s educational possibilities.
  • Working together to design and implement gap-closing intervention strategies beyond the school—such as tutoring and reading workshops for parents—as well as within them.
  • Creating a consistently high standard of school quality nationwide— and hold school board officials, school superintendents, principals, and classroom teachers accountable for meeting it—backed by the belief that all children, regardless of their socioeconomic status or place of residence, can learn and excel in school.

Throughout, Paige and Witty offer examples of outstanding schools, proven educational initiatives, and community programs, and specific suggestions for how national organizations, local civic and religious groups, and dedicated parents can make a difference in the education and future of today ’s African-American children.