The Gap is in Our Integrity

It is at best disingenuous, and at worst, hypocritical, to pretend that we did not know poor children and children of color were deliberately getting a much worse education than their white, middle and upper class counterparts until we had stacks of standardized testing data to confirm it.

This week, National Journal.com editor, Fawn Johnson, asked guest bloggers the hypothetical question: What if there were no achievement gap?  My response is here and at National Journal.com/Education Insiders:

I agree with renown educational researcher, Gloria Ladson-Billings, that “we do not have an achievement gap; we have an educational debt” (2006 AERA Presidential Address). This is not just a dithering over terminology. How we see this problem determines whether we attack it effectively or make a bad situation much, much worse.

It is at best disingenuous, and at worst, hypocritical, to pretend that we did not know poor children and children of color were deliberately getting a much worse education than their white, middle and upper class counterparts until we had stacks of standardized testing data to confirm it. Stark educational inequity has been standard practice in American education for decades. In education, research and concern about the chronic underachievement or so-called achievement gap between Black males and their peers has been fairly plentiful and consistent for almost 20 years, such as this report in a 1999 issue of Journal of Negro Education [from Howard University]. The cumulative effect of these policies has created what we commonly call the “achievement gap,” and only fierce recommitment to the principles of democracy and social justice can reduce, and ultimately eliminate it.

Many black parents and educators have been sounding the alarm about what has been happening to our children for at least a generation. More often than not, our concerns have been met with either lukewarm support or with an increase in the type of policies and practices that created the problem in the first place.

Another African American scholar, Geneva Gay observes:  “In too many schools throughout the nation, urban and rural students of color and poverty receive inadequate financial support to meet their educational needs; teachers are inappropriately prepared to work with these students; instructional materials and resources are outdated, insufficient, or inadequate; and the physical plants of [their] schools barely meet safety code and in some cases are even condemned.” These continuing conditions are the sad legacy of our society’s refusal over 60 years to fully implement the Brown decision. Separate has never been equal.

Joyce King, professor of Educational Policy Studies at Georgia State University, in a 2010 presentation at Tulane University, argues that “We as a human civilization cannot say that we are free, that we live in a democracy, that we are even human beings, if we accept the level of oppression and suppression for some parts of the population without recognizing that it affects everybody.” She concludes her remarks with this challenge: “There is an opportunity in the South to offer to the society as a whole, lessons of how to educate all children better for human freedom.”

What would it mean to our nation if there were no “achievement gap”?  For an answer, I circle back to Ladson-Billings and her poignant conclusion:

“…we must use our imaginations to construct a set of images that illustrate the debt. The images should remind us that the cumulative effect of poor education, poor housing, poor health care, and poor government services, create a bifurcated society that leaves more than its children behind. The images should compel us to deploy our knowledge, skills, and expertise to alleviate the sufferings of the least of these.”