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Stop Talking About the Achievement Gap

by Mawi on November 26, 2013

The proverbial “Achievement Gap” describes the academic disparity between white and black/Hispanic students in our country.  I wonder sometimes: Has  the term “Achievement Gap”  gotten to the point where it is no longer useful, and might actually worsen the predicament it’s meant to fix?

Talk of the Achievement Gap might be compared to talk of going on a diet. If you’re talking about dieting, it means you probably haven’t lost much weight; and if you do somehow lose weight, you probably will gain it back shortly. We’ve tried lots of things:

  • Special, targeted programs aimed at boosting black/Hispanic student achievement.
  • Training to get Caucasian staff members more sensitive to diversity issues and continuing legacies of discrimination.
  • Programs that succeed at getting minority students into college, only to find out in many cases that the students drop out at high rates.

What’s wrong? Like the word “diet,” Achievement Gap is now an overwhelmingly negative, uninspiring term that conjures up dread among faculty that have heard the same thing for decades, with little change.   Can we change the conversation? Can we talk about the Greatness Opportunity? The raw brilliance, power, capability of all our students, and how we develop greatness – rather than decreasing persistent standardized testing gaps between races.

I’ve always had a vision that our youth – ALL OUR YOUTH –  are like supreme Jedi waiting to dazzle our world with their power and brilliance. But the Achievement Gap paradigm/lexicon has us training our Jedi to work as servers at the cantina in the rundown bar in Stars Wars 4, and using all our resources to increase  their customers served / minute.

The problem isn’t the gap; the problem is the uninspiring and often depressing conversation we have attached ourselves to as a country.  Minority kids know instinctively how uninspiring the “The Achievement Gap” paradigm is, and if we are honest with ourselves, we know it too as adults.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 M November 26, 2013 at 12:22 pm

This article I read some time ago reminds me of what you’ve written. I believe in assessment, yet I’m sure there is something wrong with the kinds of assessments and/or the ways we are used to using them in the US Ed system:

2 Mawi November 27, 2013 at 8:44 am

Great article – thanks for sharing! Gets to the most basic question: What do we want from our education system?

3 Trodie Cihm November 27, 2013 at 9:40 am

You are absolutely right. “Achievement gap” is a convenient way of saying: ‘You guys are not quite up to par- not up to our standards at all’.
The term is meaningless to young learners.
They have responded to it by making the U.S. music industry the most lucrative and creative in the world.
They have consistently invented language (and probably ‘languages’ not even attributed to them)
which itself has rendered the lexicon of rap music, music that is itself actually a paradigm shift in poetry as well.
Black children need the faith and support of their families and their peers. What they need form
the mainstream is for educators to either ask them, or get out of their way, so that they can inform
one another.

4 Bailey Triplett May 15, 2014 at 6:47 pm

What would should do is address what the community as a whole needs, not a certain race socio-economic status. Data is important and addressing it must occur. But as a teacher, I see a bigger problem than math scores. I am noticing a lack of confidence, boredom, and a bit of apathy. That’s a big problem. We are so focused on grouping and labeling that we are ignoring what’s truly going to impact the future of so many teens and the global commuity as a result. We need a major overhaul in our education system. What should students be learning in school? The core content, skills, or both? For the kids that enter school without knowing the alphabet or how to add, we challenge them. These are the kids that can end up learning fast and can often grasp the skills before the ones that had parents that read to them. Positive empowerment can change the world. Once a kid finds what they like n conjunction with what they’re good at, everything is possible. We should be teaching them how to do that while embedding the core. Not the other way around.

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