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Closing the Achievement Gap - Norfleet & Kritsonis Previous Page
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EDUCATION 28 June 2008
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School Factors That Influence Closing the Academic
Achievement Gap for African American Students
Steven Norfleet
PhD Student in Educational Leadership
Prairie View A&M University
College of Education
William Allan Kritsonis, PhD
PhD Program in Educational Leadership
Prairie View A&M University
Member of the Texas A&M University System
Visiting Lecturer (2005)
Oxford Round Table
University of Oxford, Oxford, England
Distinguished Alumnus (2004)
Central Washington University
College of Education and Professional Studies
This article focuses on closing the academic achievement gap for African American
students in public schools and find school practices and conditions that will
significantly reduce the gap. From the 'War on Poverty' in the 1960's to No Child
Left Behind today, state and federal testing indicates no change in the gap to
minimum change at best. What are the perceptions on what works in schools in the
views of students, teachers, and counselors? The authors pursue this question.
losing the academic achievement gap for African American students continues to
be a challenge for public school educators. Capturing the one learning style or the
most conducive school environment or both could significantly change the
dynamics to the problem of African American academic performance in public schools.
Most of the research so far focuses on socioeconomic factors, hiring the best teachers,
working with learning styles, improving school culture, performance on high stakes
testing, to decreasing the dropout rate, increased parent involvement, or to the principal's
effectiveness in leadership. Although research in these areas certainly contributes to the
understanding of the academic achievement gap, there is little research on the African
American student at majority African American campuses.
The purpose of the article is to review current literature on what works for African
American students in public high schools in closing the achievement gap. Particularly,
the writer's interest is to center-in on the practices and conditions that high schools can
control where African American students are in the majority, with the intent of providing
some direction on where we should go from here. Sondra Cooney (2001) points out in
Closing Gaps in the Middle School, that 'District and school leaders can change the
climate for learning by examining what successful schools do. Successful leaders listen to
what students and teachers say about their schools, and they raise expectations. These
leaders understand how effective instructional practices and deeper knowledge of content
can improve student achievement.' This article elects to discuss current literature, within
the last five years, on African American academic achievement from the perspective of
teachers, counselors, students, and researchers.
Culturally Relevant Practices
One key to what works best for African American students is practicing
culturally relevant practices (Love and Krueger, 2005). In a study conducted by
Jacqueline Jordan Irvine (2004), the focus of the study was to assist practicing African
American teachers in middle and elementary schools to develop effective classroom
practices in working with African American students in urban settings. Unlike what these
teachers were taught in university education programs, the teachers found right away in
their teaching experiences that when teaching African American students, they had to
adjust their teaching style to accommodate teaching in terms of caring, using other
mothering skills, demonstrating a strong belief in African American students, demanding
the best, balanced discipline, as well as adopting the teaching profession as a calling. A
few specifics when teaching African American students are:
Teaching by Caring
' Care by providing honest and truthful feedback about their performance.
' Care but never relinquish authority or attempt to be friends of the students.
' Demonstrate that caring represents a whole history of African American culture
including learning opportunities; learning is the key to success, and respect for
the achievement of knowledge.
' Focus on caring in all aspects of the student's life, not just interpersonal ways.
Teaching by Other Mothering
' Teachers are motivated because of their desires to help students learn and
advance the cultural group.
' Teachers have a sense of emotional attachment, kinship, and want to develop a
sense of personal attachment to the students.
Teaching by Believing
' Teachers believe that African American students can learn and demand their
highest performance.
Teaching is Demanding the Best
' Teachers have high expectations and demanded the highest performance from
each student.
Teaching is Disciplining
' Teachers are warm demanders, dedicated, respectful, and competent.
Teaching is a Calling
' The teachers in this report saw their position in the community as a spiritual
Highly Effective Teachers
In a study conducted by Angela Love and Ann Cale Krueger (2005), the study
points out research by (Boykin, 1983, 1994; Willis, 1992, 1998) that 'African American
students might learn best in an environment whose style is relational and personal, like an
extended family.' Love and Krueger also reference in their research an ethnographic
study conducted by Ladson-Billings (1994). The study focused on eight highly effective
teachers that were recommended by principals, colleagues, and parents as being
successful with African American students. Teacher comments were summarized in the
study as follows:
' Teachers provided students on regular basis opportunities to learn collectively
and cooperatively.
' Few assumptions were made about student prior knowledge.
' Teaching was viewed as an art.
' Teaching was viewed as giving back to the community, knowledge was
reciprocal, and critical thinking skills were accentuated.
Ladson-Billings referred to this as culturally relevant beliefs, but they seem to work well
for teachers of African American students in public schools. Another key point that was
brought out in the study is that all eight highly effective teachers endorsed the use of
repetition, drill, and practice.
Learning Mathematics
Vivian Moody ((2004) followed two African American female high school students,
chronicling their perspectives on learning mathematics from two different orientations of
life. Of particular focus was the role of sociocultural orientations of the students in
mathematics. One orientation was being a student as a minority of the campus enrollment
and the other orientation was being a student as part of the majority enrollment on a
different campus. Both students contributed their mathematical success in the following
' Being able to identify with caring educators were important constituents to their
' Teachers encouraged student efforts often and made special efforts to help them
' Teachers believed by saying you can do it.
' Teachers provided opportunities to learn upper level mathematics.
' Teachers were approachable and made themselves available.
' Both students had a preference for female African American mathematics
Noncogitive Model
Powell and Arriola (2003) research on the Relationship Between Psychosocial
Factors and Academic Achievement Among African American Students was guided by a
noncogitive model for academic achievement. Sedlacek and Brooks (1976) found that
there were seven noncognitive variables that are especially predictive of academic
achievement among students of ethnic or racial minority background. Of the seven
variables, Powell and Arriola focused on community service, academic motivation, social
support, and student method for handling unfair treatment. Eighty-four African American
high school students enrolled in an academy for health sciences participated in the study.
Four hypotheses were drawn from the model as good predictors of African American
student success including higher academic motivation yields a higher GPA, students that
perceived themselves having strong social support yields higher GPA's, students that
persevered by talking things out to others when faced with unfairness yields a higher
GPA, and students that demonstrate community service yields a higher GPA. Only the
method of coping with unfair treatment was associated with GPA. Therefore, Powell and
Arriola concluded that African American students who talk things out to others about
their problems are more likely to seek help in their schoolwork, which yields the
likelihood of a higher GPA.
How Schools Can Help Minority Students
Based on an ethnographic study conducted by John Ogbu, Erwin Flaxman (2003)
points out how Ogbu investigated how schools can help minority students be more
academically engaged and better achievers. In his research, students reported that they
felt that the lack of discipline and other disruptive behavior in the classes where they
were in the majority were not conducive to learning, unlike the advanced placement
classes (Flaxman, 2003). Ogbu's research further recommends that, for students to be
successful each student needs help in developing and distinguishing long and short term
goals, as well as improved study habits and study skills to resist anti-academic peer
pressure (Flaxman, 2003).
S. Kent Butler (2003), in an article entitled Helping Urban African American
High School Students to Excel Academically: The Role of School Counselors, makes
several important recommendations in the pivotal role school counselors can play in
helping to ensure African American student academic success.
' When conceptualizing strategies to affect improving academic achievement in
African American students, include systematic models that emphasize
resilience and strength.
' Include field trips to local professional companies that have large African
American staffs or leaders.
' Develop mentoring and tutoring programs with academically motivated African
American college students.
' Develop and attend career fairs with African American guest speakers from a
wide range of professional occupations.
Concluding Remarks
In conclusion, the purpose of this article was to review current literature on what
works with African American students in public high schools in closing the achievement
gap. The achievement gap has concerned government and educators from President
Johnson's 'War on Poverty', to the Head Start program, to Ron Edmonds and J. S.
Coleman's research on Effective Schools, to Title I programs, and now to No Child Left
Behind. With more research on what works for African American students in real
situations, the future looks very bright in significantly closing the achievement gap.
Anderson, Lorin W. (2002). Curricular alignment: A re-examination. Theory Into
Practice, 41 ( 4), 255-260.
Decker, Greg (2003). Using data to drive student achievement in t
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