What if we stopped talking about the achievement gap?
Not stopped working on closing it, but just stopped talking about it in the classical ways we have.
In the late 60's, at the height of the civil rights movement, Malcolm X had a profound epiphany following his pilgrimage to Mecca. When he returned to the U.S., he took the classic notion of 'civil rights,' and expanded it. Up to that point, civil rights had been on the lips of every progressive thinker in the U.S. It had been talked about and documented. There were plans, marches, boycotts and demonstrations all on the basis of what came to be known as the moral imperative of our time. (In fact, the term is so ingrained in our conscience that even today we use it to define other important issues involving people, e.g. 'the civil rights issue of our time'). Malcolm thought the term was too little and so he expanded it to human rights. His thesis was that human rights contains the ideas upon which civil rights stand. I think this is instructive for the classroom and the schoolhouse.
When we continue to focus solely on the achievement gap, we only see the deficit and difference in achievement of black and brown children versus their white peers. This deficit model of focus pushes us to seek and search for what is wrong with these children, rather than what is missing from the classrooms, schools and educational systems that should be serving them. Under-service usually precedes under-performance and under-performance almost always points to inequity. I would encourage you today to think beyond the achievement gap and to focus on equity.
Equity could be defined as the practice of providing appropriate scaffolds and supports that meet the cognitive, cultural and emotional needs of students. Equity is a practice. It also is a perspective. A belief system. "We see and hear.....through our beliefs." When equity is your lens, it may be evident in the following actions:
1. Students are expected to work beyond their comfort level and just below their frustration point.
2. Systems of assessment and instruction are put in place that make room for the cultural practices, experiences and values of students.
3. There is transparency to the work, such that students and parents know what each student's achievement level is and how close to or far from the grade level standard that achievement level is.
4. Plans are put in place to ensure that no matter what the achievement level of the student is, he/she grows to at least grade level expectations by the end of the year. (And if they are already at grade level expectations at the beginning of the school year, they should still be well beyond it by the same time frame).
5. The teacher organizes his/her life in such a way that deep and meaningful planning takes place, a consistent feedback loop between assignment, assessment and feedback is established and ongoing personal professional development fuels practice.
If we focus just on the gap itself, and miss the overarching concept of providing equity for all, we will fall into that gap of thinking, planning and talking. We can do better by our students. We can do better by our parents. We can do better for the profession. When you focus on equity, you have the power to change the trajectory of every traditionally under-served student that walks through your door. Use that power today!