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Closing the Black-White Achievement Gap in High School: An Assessment of Evidence on Interventions to Improve Test Scores and College Prospects of African American Students

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Closing the Black-White Achievement Gap in High School: An Assessment of Evidence on Interventions to Improve Test Scores and College Prospects of African American Students
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  1Closing the Black-White Achievement Gap in High School: An Assessment of Evidence onInterventions to Improve Test Scores and College Prospects of African American StudentsAmy Ellen Schwartz, Leanna Stiefel, Hella Bel Hadj Amor and Abigail Conover Carlton 1  Institute for Education and Social Policy, New York UniversityWhite Paper Prepared for the College Board’s College Systems Readiness Division  October 2008 1   We thank Costanza Biavaschi, Jessica Boccardo, Leslie Gerhart, Eric Stern and Meryle Weinstein for researchassistance.    2 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY The achievement gap between African American students and their white peers is one of theenduring challenges facing the American public education system. Yet there is a surprising lack of research that examines ways to improve achievement among African American teens and,particularly, the efficacy of alternative educational policies in closing the gap between AfricanAmerican high school students and their peers. Much of the existing research takes a broaderview, focusing on the achievement of all minorities or low-income students, or examines causesof the black-white achievement gap in the early grades. While the achievement gap betweenAfrican American and white students closed substantially over the 1970s and 1980s, progress hasslowed and possibly even reversed in recent decades. In light of this trend, researchers havebegun to identify a set of factors that determine the achievement of African American teens andthat may be sensitive to changes in policy and practice.In this paper, we review policy levers that could potentially help close the achievement gapbetween African American and white high school students, and draw on the literature to gleanrecommendations for superintendants, principals and education policy makers. We address, inturn: policies to recruit and train teachers; policies to improve attendance, discipline andrelationships among students and adults; policies to provide additional services to students;policies to increase the types of schools available to African American teens; policies to engageparents and communities; and policies to effectively use data. In the end, students of all racesbenefit from good educational practices, adequate resources and strong support. Policies andinterventions to improve the performance of African American students will overlapsignificantly with those that would improve the performance of students of other races.  3Relatively little literature examines ways in which to improve the achievement of AfricanAmerican teens, and, particularly, the efficacy of alternative educational policies in closing thegaps between African American high school students and their peers. Related literature oftentakes a broader view, focusing on the achievement of all minorities or even low-income students.Importantly, while many African American teens are indeed low-income, many low-incomestudents are not African American but are white or Hispanic or Asian, making it difficult to drawconclusions from this strand of work for African Americans in particular. Further, much of theexisting research focuses on the causes of the black-white achievement gap in the early grades, asmaller body on the college years, while the critical transition years into and in high school arelittle studied.There is, in contrast, a good deal of evidence documenting and describing the nature of African American teen achievement drawing on a variety of data sources - including surveys of students, parents, teachers or administrators, national databases, and administrative databases.The bulk of the work is descriptive, however, relying on descriptive statistics, comparisons andother correlations, and very little work has attempted to draw a causal link between AfricanAmerican student achievement and the factors that influence it. Indeed, few interventions havebeen carefully evaluated and much further research is warranted to substantiate the effectivenessof recommended policies.While the achievement gap between African American and white students closedsubstantially over the 1970s and 1980s, progress has slowed and possibly even reversed in recentdecades (Lee, 2002; Neal, 2005). In light of this trend, researchers have begun to identify a set of factors that determine the achievement of African American teens and that may be sensitive tochanges in policy and practice. This paper reviews these potential levers of change and draws on  4the literature to glean recommendations for superintendents, principals and education policymakers. Interestingly, the recommendations are in many ways unremarkable – that is, some mayseem obvious or would benefit all students in need, not just African Americans. In the end,students of all races benefit from good educational practices, adequate resources and strongsupport, and policies and interventions to improve the performance of African American studentswill overlap significantly with those that would improve the performance of students of otherraces.We address, in turn: policies to recruit and train teachers; policies to improve attendance,discipline and relationships among students and adults; policies to provide additional services tostudents; policies to increase the types of schools available to African American teens; policies toengage parents and communities; and policies to effectively use data. •   Recruit teachers who are o   Highly qualified Students need good teachers and administrators. The vast controversy surrounding whichteacher characteristics are associated with higher student achievement is beyond the scope of thispaper, but there is at least some evidence that teacher education, including a degree in the field tobe taught, certification, ability, content knowledge, and some experience are beneficial, at leastin some circumstances. 2  Hiring and training teachers is a key factor in improving the achievement of AfricanAmerican students, who are less likely to experience high quality instruction. Indeed, there isample evidence that African American students are more likely to attend high-poverty,segregated schools with a higher concentration of new, less-experienced, uncertified teachers and 2 Darling-Hammond, 1999; Greenwald, Hedges, and Laine, 1996.  5teachers from programs with limited time commitment to the profession, such as Teach forAmerica. 3  Yet evidence suggests that African American students are particularly likely to thrivewith teachers who are effective and trained to give them the best possible preparation (Borman,Stringfield and Rachuba, 1998; Schott, 2008). As a number of authors suggest, highly-qualifiedteachers are better able to provide instruction that is particularly effective with African Americanstudents i.e., instruction that is personalized, student-centered, engaging, and culturallysensitive. 4 High quality teachers can also combat African American student disengagement, if there is such a thing. 5  Suggested policies follow from this evidence. Many, including respected authors in thisarea, write that policies must be targeted to attract teachers to high-needs schools who are well-educated, certified and qualified to teach their subject. 6 Accordingly, suggested policies include:increasing teacher salaries for those willing to teach in high-needs schools, improvingprofessional development and mentoring of new teachers to reduce teacher turnover, offeringand recognizing alternate forms of teacher certification to attract non-traditional teachers into thefield, and providing and actively recruiting teachers from pre-service teacher education programsthat are found to be particularly effective, prepare teachers for teaching in particular types of schools, and encourage them to go into those schools. o   Possibly African American 3 Darling-Hammond, 1999; Hanushek and Rivkin, 2008; Kane et al., 2007. 4   Gándara and Maxwell-Jolly, 1999; Borman, Stringfield and Rachuba, 1998; Losen, Orfield and Balfanz, 2006;Nettles, Millett and Oh, 2006.   5 See the appendix for a discussion of disengagement and “acting white.” 6   Boyd et. al., 2008; Darling-Hammond, 1999; Hanushek and Rivkin, 2008; Kane, Rockoff and Staiger, 2007.  
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