Donna Y. Ford, Ph.D., is Professor of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University. She teaches in the Department of Special Education. Professor Ford conducts research primarily in gifted education and multicultural/urban education. Specifically, her work focuses on: (1) recruiting and retaining culturally diverse students in gifted education; (2) multicultural and urban education; (3) minority student achievement and underachievement; and (4) family involvement. She consults with school districts and educational organizations in the areas of gifted education and multicultural/urban education. Dr. Ford is the author of Reversing Underachievement Among Gifted Black Students (1996) and co-author of Multicultural Gifted Education (1999), In search of the dream: Designing schools and classrooms that work for high potential students from diverse cultural backgrounds (2004), and Teaching culturally diverse gifted students. Dr. Ford, is co-founder of the Scholar Identity Institute for Black Males with Dr. Gilman Whiting. Donna is a returning board member of the National Association for Gifted Children, and has served on numerous editorial boards, such as Gifted Child Quarterly, Exceptional Children, Journal of Negro Education, and Roeper Review.
According to virtually every report and study focusing on the achievement gap between Black and White students, Black students are under-performing in school settings compared to their White counterparts. Of the more than 16,000 school districts in the U.S., few (if any) can report that no achievement gap exists, that the achievement gap is marginal, or that the gap has been narrowed or closed. Nationally, there is the average of a four-year gap in which Black students at the age of 17 perform at the level of a 13-year old White student. Of course, and sadly so, this gap is greater than four years in some states and school districts. Also sad and pathetic is the reality that, while the gap is evident when students start school, it is roughly a one-year gap in the early years; however, during the educational process, the gap increases or widens! The achievement gap exists because of home and school variables, with schools playing a significant role.
Both the persistence of and widening of the achievement gap during the formal school years cannot be ignored. Why is it that educators, with all their credentials in testing and curriculum and child development, have not been able to narrow or close the gap in recent years? One explanation lies in the fact too few colleges and universities offer courses in cultural diversity or endeavor to help their students to become culturally competent. Thus, many educators and other college students graduate with undergraduate and graduate degrees that do not adequately prepare them to work with students from backgrounds that are different from their own. Stated another way, too few courses and programs have been created and designed to equip future and current educators/professionals with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to work with our nation’s increasing diversity. This increasing diversity cannot be ignored or trivialized in any way – especially given that over 40% of public school students are Black, Hispanic, Asian, or American Indian. Yet, few teachers come from these racial/ethnic backgrounds. Instead, approximately 85% of classroom teachers are White and most of them (75%) are White females. Our society is becoming increasingly diverse, but our teaching force is not. The implications are clear and important. We must have educators, regardless of their race/ethnicity, who are committed to doing all they can for ALL students, who are committed to being non-discriminatory and culturally competent, and who are committed to their profession and the students in their care. More bluntly, I heard Rev. Lawry say on CNN over a year ago that, “We must be as diligent about closing the achievement gap as we were about creating it.” I cannot think of a more powerful statement (or indictment) to describe the achievement gap – its existence and persistence – than this assertion. The achievement gap is unnecessary and we must commit ourselves to not just narrowing the gap, but also closing it.