The United Negro College Fund’s research institute is drawing together leading thinkers, advocates, and policymakers to map out a consensus on the critical issues that affect African-Americans’ educational success.
“We have different pulpits, and we’re giving different issues,” said M. Christopher Brown II, the executive director of the UNCF’s Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute. “But there was no consensus around what the issues were.”
Formed in January, the high-level group met for a second time on July 14 at the UNCF’s headquarters here. By year’s end, the group plans to produce a report that will outline 10 key issues for African-American students’ success, point to where more research is needed, and recommend solutions to the problems identified. The report is intended to provide common talking points and a research agenda for the 48 organizations involved—a list that includes research firms, school systems, national education groups, and the historically black colleges and universities that make up the backbone of the UNCF’s membership.
“As an industry, I’m not aware that we’ve ever talked about what it is we need to say about African-Americans’ education before,” said Sharon P. Robinson, a former president of the Educational Testing Service’s Educational Policy Leadership Institute in Princeton, N.J.
Another participant at this month’s meeting, Vinetta C. Jones, the education dean at Howard University in Washington, said the institute’s work is also important because black Americans’ perspectives are missing from mainstream educational research.
“The vast majority of educational researchers in this country are white and middle-class,” she said, “and the research questions you can come up with are greatly influenced by what you bring to the table.”
Topping the group’s emerging agenda are concerns about disparities between black and white students in several areas: school readiness, educational attainment, school funding, and teacher quality. Studies show, for instance, that urban schools with high minority enrollments have higher concentrations of teachers who have emergency certifications or who may be teaching subjects they were not trained to teach than many neighboring suburban schools do.
“We think there needs to be more research around what are the best incentives to get highly qualified teachers to teach where there is the highest need,” said Erika M. Miller, the executive director of the McKenzie Group, a Washington-based research firm.
The institute said research is also needed to look at how various school improvement efforts, ranging from multiple-intelligences theory to high-stakes testing, affect black students.
To step up college-going rates among African-Americans, the group called for a national campaign to “re-market” education to young people, especially those who are banking on future careers as professional athletes or entertainers.
Participants said, however, that more and younger African-American education researchers and leaders would be needed to carry out the initiative’s agenda.
“If we ran a list of all the important African-American researchers, policymakers, and advocates in Washington, D.C.,” Mr. Brown said, “there are probably less than 100.”
A version of this article appeared in the July 28, 2004 edition of Education Week as United Negro College Fund Seeks Research Consensus