The Achievement Gap*

Between chatter on the blogosphere and my own university’s rather insistent focus on social justice, I’ve been thinking a lot about the achievement gap* and racial inequality in the classroom and in the education system as a whole.

First off, you may be wondering what the asterisk is doing at the end of achievement gap*. Well, that stems largely from the opinions of Dr. Camika Royal, which she expressed in her blog post on good.is. The Teach for America alumna claims that the phrase is flawed “because it blames the historically marginalized, under-served victims of poor schooling and holds whiteness and wealth as models of excellence.” I was prepared to disagree with her statement, but then I realized there is at least a little truth to it.

At the moment I’m enrolled in the class, “Teaching and Learning in Urban Communities,” and we are stressed to learn more about the educational needs of minority groups, especially those living near and below the poverty line. I’m rather happy to be in this class, because I attended an inner-city high school, and I’ve always thought it important to go and teach in a similar urban environment. However, it has become clear that in the mind of the professor, at least, “urban” means “black.” Black males, to be specific, since they are statistically shown to be the group with the most difficulties in the school system. When the educational community discusses the achievement gap*, do their minds immediately picture classrooms filled solely with African-American children?

“Definitions belong to the definers—not the defined.”

– Toni Morrison

Dr. Royal later references a TFA meeting she attended in the southwestern states, where locals called the TFA teachers “colonizers.” In other areas they are “carpetbaggers” or even union “scabs.” No matter the term, white teachers brought in to teach non-white students are the “other.” We may not be a cohort of Teach for America instructors, but as I look around my class dedicated to teaching in urban communities, I see a overwhelming majority of white faces. Mine included.

I hope this racial bias in discussions of the achievement gap* are non-existing or at the very least diminishing. As I think back on my urban education, I remember that my debate club president was African-American, and the girl in my homeroom showing off pictures of her ultrasound was Caucasian. Race may be an important factor in the achievement gap* on a statistical basis, but individual achievement is dependent on the individual’s own potential, which is infinite.

You can read Dr. Royal’s comments at good.is, and responses from Teach for America alums can be read starting here, the first in a series of five posts on the achievement gap*.

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