@DrCamikaRoyal wrote a solid piece today on @Good entitled Please Stop Using The Term Achievement Gap. It really resonated with me and I wanted to share my perspective on this issue through my work with Urban Strategies Council.
Dr Royal talked about the history of this phrase and the clear and present meaning conveyed when it is used most commonly to describe the performance difference between white kids and kids of color in our public schools (and mostly just for black and brown students). This paragraph states the reality quite well:
Because of America’s racial history and legacy, the cross-racial comparison that holds up white student achievement as the universally standard goal is problematic. Further, the term “achievement gap” is inaccurate because it blames the historically marginalized, under-served victims of poor schooling and holds whiteness and wealth as models of excellence. And, as with all misnomers, the thinking that undergirds the achievement gap only speaks of academic outcomes, not the conditions that led to those outcomes, nor does it acknowledge that the outcomes are a consequence of those conditions.
At the Council we worked heavily in partnership with OUSD in setting up the African American Male Achievement initiative in Oakland last year, and there was a huge focus on the achievement gap that we pushed back on with all the goal indicators- the assumption that our black and brown boys must be achieving to the same level as white boys just did not make any sense- if the bar is set low then reaching the goal is a BS waste of time. There were some instances where white males had great outcomes, and in those cases the District chose to keep them as the benchmark…
When we look at California school districts like Oakland, the outcomes for white males are not GOOD, so why would we seek this for our most disenfranchised students? We instead pushed for a quality standard that required all students to improve outcomes. It lead us to develop a new Equity Framework at the Council- we’re talking now about how equity requires a measure of quality before there is measurable, meaningful equality.
We also use language that communicates the disparities between ethnic groups- we want people to understand there are differences that are not healthy, but it is not as you say correctly just about those student’s performance- they don’t exist in a bubble, they exist in neighborhoods with unequal conditions and have historical issues to face. In the end, putting it all on those kids as being under-achievers does in fact diminish the wider scope of responsibility that we conveniently ignore as a system and a society.
Check out our equity framework concept here http://urbanstrategies.org/equity/
To get an idea of how place and other factors impact out kids take a look at the map of suspension rates for African American males in Oakland.