Superintendent Calls for Raising Academic Achievement

Issue Date: 
October 2, 2006


Calling the disparity in classroom performance between Black and White students in America “the most complex, serious, politically and emotionally charged issue of our time,” Pittsburgh Public School Superintendent Mark Roosevelt told a Pitt audience last week that parents, educators, and future teachers and social workers must work together to raise the academic achievement levels of Black as well as White students in city schools.

“This economy is relentlessly cruel to those who are undereducated,” said Roosevelt, whose Sept. 26 lecture kicked off the Pitt Center on Race and Social Problems’ Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney Fall 2006 Speaker Series.

While many White students are underachieving, too, the numbers on African American student performance in U.S. public schools are “just plain depressing,” Roosevelt said. For example, only 13 percent of Black fourth graders nationally are performing at or above the literacy levels for their grade, he noted.

Racism, poor-quality schools, teachers’ differing expectations of Black and White students, and students’ home environments all may be working against African American students, according to the superintendent. An urban youth culture that “emphasizes swagger more than it does work” also is “hugely debilitating,” he said.

Roosevelt, who became superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools in August 2005, pledged to provide immediate help to students when they begin to fall behind academically and to create smaller classes for high school underclassmen, among other initiatives. “If we don’t put the full force of our intellectual and monetary assets behind this issue” of improving public education in the United States, he declared, “it will be the issue that brings this country down.”