Is “Achievement Gap” Racist?

This 74 article today is an important look at a genuinely important conversation. Is the “achievement gap” a racist  phrasing or one that leads to negative stereotyping? Recommend the article. A few reax:

When I first read the article I remembered a civil rights leader who, remarking on the fecklessness / faddishness of the education world observed that the kids don’t really stand a chance. Their point was just that the sector struggles with hard conversations and politically fraught ones  and adult politics usually win. Seemed too pessimistic at the time…

I’m obviously more in the Chris Stewart camp here (though Shavar Jeffries makes an important point that politically we should tie these issues to broader ones) but am interested, especially given the history of the system, in the education equity policies that address the disparates we see today absent a strong focus on those disparities, which would seem to include identifying and quantifying them. What are those ideas or policies that would include systemic accountability besides radical school choice and just letting parents decide, which is popular on parts of the left as well as the right?

It doesn’t seem hard to believe that media coverage about the achievement gap could lead to negative stereotypes (but if you believe that the differences we see by race and ethnicity and income in achievement on state assessments owe to kids rather than the system they are in that’s not an “implicit” bias, it’s an explicit one. I don’t know why we persist in saying that people – especially in education – who don’t have high expectations for all kids have an implicit issue, that’s an explicit problem!)

Yet here’s the thing: It was many school leaders and self-identified public education advocates at the front of the line arguing that requiring schools to have kids on grade level in reading by 3rd-grade, or narrowing achievement gaps, and all the rest of the standards-based reforms was unrealistic. Those ideas really took hold during NCLB and they rarely said the quiet part out loud, except about special education kids, but if you want to perpetuate stereotypes it’s stuff like this that’s doing it. In the early days of NCLB design the ideas put forward as ambitious timetables for improving performance ( 2030 to get kids on grade level, really, and this was 2001) were totally insane, that’s why the 2014 goal ended up being put in place. And no one is going to accuse the media of a lot of context in its NCLB coverage.

In other words, a little scrutiny on decades of pushback from a system charged with educating kids filtered through an often credulous media might be a good place to look for at least part of why people struggle with the “achievement gap” construct, and might remind us that whatever we call it next, the pushback will still be there. Why? Because this sector is not looking for the right phraseology, it’s allergic to accountability.

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