Closing the Achievement Gap Without Widening a Racial One
I've read many articles about his research, but haven't read a profile of Ronald Ferguson before this one – for a simple reason: there's hasn't been one! There should have been – this is REALLY important work:
Unlike Dr. Ogbu, an anthropology professor, and Dr. Murray, a political scientist, Dr. Ferguson has his doctorate in economics from M.I.T.; he has been trained to quantify everything. From his surveys of students in dozens of wealthy, racially mixed suburbs — including Evanston, Ill.; Maplewood, N.J.; and Shaker Heights, Ohio — he has calculated that the average grade of black students was C-plus, while white students averaged a B-plus. The gap.
At the high school here, T. C. Williams — the setting of the movie "Remember the Titans" — he found that 55 percent of white girls reported having an A or A-minus average, compared with less than 20 percent of black girls and boys.
His research indicates that half the gap can be predicted by economics: even in a typical wealthy suburb, blacks are not as well-to-do; 79 percent are in the bottom 50 percent financially, while 73 percent of whites are in the top 50 percent.
The other half of the gap, he has calculated, is that black parents on average are not as academically oriented in raising their children as whites. In a wealthy suburb he surveyed, 40 percent of blacks owned 100 or more books, compared with 80 percent of whites. In first grade, the percentage of black and white parents reading to their children daily was about the same; by fifth grade, 60 percent to 70 percent of whites still read daily to their children, compared with 30 percent to 40 percent of blacks.
He also works with teachers to identify biases, for instance: black children are less likely to complete homework because they are lazy. His research indicates that blacks and whites spend the same amount of time on homework, but blacks are less likely to finish. "It's not laziness," he says. "It's a difference in skills."
How these messages get delivered is crucial. "I don't want to be another one of those people lecturing black parents," he says. "I tell them we in the black community — we — need to build stronger intellectual lives at home."