A major and pressing problem facing educators, particularly in the context of the current national agenda of achieving schooling success for each student, is the consistent finding of differential correlation among low, mid-range, and high academic achievement in different groups of ethnic minority students. The research base shows a striking achievement gap between Asian American and European American students on the one hand, and, on the other, African American, Latino, and Native American students. The latter groups tend to score lower on tests that measure scholastic aptitude, as well as on those that test vocabulary, reading, and mathematics abilities.
This gap, which appears early in life and persists into adulthood, cannot simply be attributed to race, however. The research base indicates differences in achievement potential between African American and Latino males and females; between Caribbean- and Continental- born Blacks; and between middle- and lower-class minority students. Most troubling is the finding of increasing differences even for those students who are economically advantaged. Some school districts known for their tradition of academic excellence are now faced with the challenge of serving an increasingly diverse student population, including minority students from relatively affluent families who are showing major gaps in their patterns of academic achievement.
Traditional explanations for the gap, such as social-environmental and genetic-hereditary causes, have not gone far in understanding and closing the achievement gap. This article summarizes the state of our knowledge about the factors that influence the achievement of ethnic minority children, and success strategies including some relatively new explanations.
The paper discusses implications for policy, programs, and practices in light of research findings, the nature of the immigrant experience as it relates to achievement in schools and access to higher education, specifically at nurturing successful minority collegians, both with broader implications for improving academic performance among secondary schools. We suggest better ways to identify and support gifted students among minority populations, and a notable gender issue: the underrepresentation of female students in the sciences and in mathematics. We call for a fundamental reorientation of, in the first instance, how we regard the economically disadvantaged and the undereducated and how we regard the nonanalytical intelligences.
The overall goals are (a) to develop an integrative synthesis of what is known about effective and promising policies and practices associated with high academic achievement among students from minority backgrounds and (b) to develop an action plan for the implementation of effective intervention programs that reduce the achievement gap among minority students.
What Is the Current State of Knowledge on the Underachievement of Ethnic Minority Children?
– For research to be useful, it must accurately reflect the complexity of the problems that students and teachers face. For example, the demographic makeup of many parts of the country has become highly diverse. Leaders need current, accurate demographic information to effectively plan responses to the challenges practitioners face because of this diversification.
– Information on the history and experiences of children and families is critical to implementing and sustaining change. Because populations of school districts are likely to be diverse, each school district will be unique and its problems and their solutions will differ.
– Promising practices must be translated more widely; schools need to be aware of what research says about the most promising practices.
– For large urban school systems that serve many poor children, the task is difficult. They need to be monitored closely for success.
– More information is needed on how to document outcomes.
What Are the Key Characteristics of Effective Programs Associated with the High Achievement of Ethnic Minority Youngsters?
– Effective programs target children for special instruction before they can be mainstreamed.
– Educational systems and practices must change to reflect the belief that all children are capable of learning. Educators must make certain that all children are equally well served.
– Successful programs provide counseling for linguistically and economically challenged students.
– The roles of principal, school board, and superintendent in the implementation of change need to be clarified.
– Ongoing opportunities need to be provided for practitioners and researchers to meet and discuss the range of issues concerning students’ achievement.
What Implications Do Program Development and Modification and Expansion of the Knowledge of Effective Programs Have for Widescale Dissemination and Implementation?
– Schools and communities need to work together, and they need information on how to do this successfully.
– Leadership, especially in urban districts, must be stabilized.
– Partnerships that focus on closing the achievement gap must be created between school districts and foundations.
– Teachers must have a thorough understanding of the different forms of intelligence.
– Data should be used to reduce the mismatch of professional development and the actual needs of students and staff.
– Student talent needs to be used in designing instruction and school programs.
– The perception of schools as a hostile environment must be reduced for both students and teachers.
– Clear and high expectations need to be established.
– More teams of teachers who can reflect and collaborate on critical challenges and design strategies for implementation must be created. Researchers should play a critical advisory role.
– Family and community partnerships must be increased by pairing teachers and students.
– District support of schools needs to increase.
– Students are a valuable resource that should be maximized.
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