How to Close the Achievement Gap?

Published October 1, 2004

The achievement gap between black and white students has been a persistent feature of the performance of America’s public schools, despite equally persistent efforts to close that gap since the 1954 Brown decision, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared separate schools for black and white students were equal in facilities but simply needed to be integrated to raise black student achievement.

Black high school seniors currently perform at about the same level as white eighth-graders in reading and math. This achievement gap goes a long way toward explaining why there is a college graduation gap and a wage gap between blacks and whites, according to Harvard University professor Christopher Jencks, author of The Black-White Test Score Gap.

“Those disparities almost disappear once you compare African Americans and whites who actually have the same test scores,” said Jencks in a new video documentary from the Corporation for Educational Radio and Television (CERT), called Closing the Achievement Gap. “So if you can narrow that test score gap, you might be able to do an awful lot economically and educationally.”

This “persistent and dramatic achievement gap between black students and white students” remains the biggest challenge faced by public education today, according to Clarence Page, the Chicago Tribune‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and narrator of the CERT program.

“If we could close that gap … and truly equalize educational achievement between the races, most of our other socioeconomic debates would just go away,” said Page.