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  • James Samuel Walsh

    About half way through the first paragraph I took a guess that Camika was a black female, and one with an axe to grind. Bingo!

  • observing philadelphia

    Grabieca: I disagree about (the Finns') equity, vs. excellence, being superior. Neither should be eclipsed, but excellence must be the standard. Everybody needs to aspire to that, whether it's in the classroom or on the MacDonald's serve-line or in corporate board-rooms. If not, the American work ethic goes (has gone) down the tubes.
    And that brings me to the comment that I was going to make to Camika Royal's post, with all of which I agree: if only white Americans would pause to think for just once, for just a short while, what it's like trying to make your way in life in a brown body. Is it more of a struggle trying to get a good-paying job? A bank loan? To be taken at "face-value," on you own recognizance, as it were, rather than as wearing the clothing colored by those of your own race(s) who have succumbed to the pressures of doing everything with double effort and fallen in the estimation of society's (economic) majority. Everytime I see a blind person, I realize how fortunate I am to be sighted, and how constantly frustrated---no, angry---I would be at the doing of the slightest thing with double effort, and how much more I would have to use my brain to negotiate my way through the day than others do. And yet, it has been my experience that children in these urban schools have all of the great qualities of intellect and humanity that any other child has, in spite of their situation.
    My one disagreement with Dr. Royal relates to the inescapable fact that the standards to which the "achievement gap" relate are fundamentally economically-based. And of course, it's an historical fact that our economic system is almost totally in the hands of whites. It is the task of our educational system to prepare each student to operate competently within that economic system, so as to provide for their own survival. Others may, I think incorrectly, put a political spin on that, but that's the indivisible reality. I could go on to moralize on the failure of our schools generally to do this and its hugely corrosive social effect, both on the over- and the under-class, but I don't think I need to draw any pictures for anyone.

  • grableca

    sweet baby jesus, where to begin? if you dig around in this pile of word spaghetti, you might find an edible morsel or two. MIGHT. i first read a blurb about this piece in good's print mag (now destined to line my birdcage). after determining that it was, in fact, written in english (thank you, google translate), i gamely decided to give ms. royal another chance to make her argument and read the full essay with optimism.

    royal mistake.

    it was immediately clear that ms. royal is not a direct stakeholder in the education debate; no public school student, parent or career teacher could have written this. (cue foreboding music here.)

    you can question the language that shapes the dialogue. how we generate ideals of success. white people's investment in the status quo. the paucity of culturally and racially knowledgeable stakeholders. even (especially) the evils of capitalism itself (much, MUCH more to blame for education disenfranchisement than race, which anyone on the ground in gritty urban schools can tell you). those are all valid concerns.

    what you can't do is make the language used to explain and contextualize the problems more important than the fact that MILLIONS OF STUDENTS OF COLOR CAN'T FUCKING READ, WRITE OR DO ARITHMETIC. lacking an evidence-based, substantive or coherent argument for anything other than that "middle-class liberals and other well-meaning white folks" working daily in the trenches are dangerous assholes, ms. royal seems to suggest that the fact that a few (pretty? privileged? slumming?) white girls used the phrase "achievement gap" a couple times is WORSE THAN THE FUCKING ACHIEVEMENT (OR WHATEVER) GAP. or, possibly, the cause of it?

    mind you, i'm not one of those white people who thinks liberal middle-class assholes should get a purple heart just for being white liberal middle-class assholes. purple hearts should definitely be given first to heroes and identity politics nitwits and other types of assholes.

    i am a public school parent. my kids go to a low-performing (oops! i mean non-european-adjusted...that is, not-yet-ready-for-white-time...historically disenfranchised...oh, forget it) san francisco school with a large [insert whatever euphemism is currently acceptable to the social justice zealots here]. we haven't yet tallied this year's school lunch forms, but we'll probably net out around 65% free/reduced. there are schools with much more disadvantaged populations in our city, and schools with less. as we are a spanish-immersion school, we have a shit ton of ELLs. they are amazingly unprepared to succeed in "european" terms (who woulda thunk?).

    our school community has logged hundreds -- thousands -- of hours trying to understand why our latino students don't test as well as white/english students (putting aside the problems with testing and assessments and bias for another day, because i have spent enough time in class and leading afterschool enrichment that i can safely say the proficiency problems are real and exist and hurt people, whatever your definition of "achievement" is.) it can't all be chalked up to language, as our white and english-speaking students even perform better on spanish-language assessments.

    and so we get to...

    what do you suggest we do instead? really...i want to know. we've actually had a handful of TFA types -- some the young white thangs you mention -- pass through (on their way to neiman marcus to buy shoes with daddy's money, no doubt). get this: SOME OF THEM ACTUALLY HELPED ACTUAL REAL LATINO AND AA STUDENTS LEARN TO READ BETTER, THEREBY IMPROVING THEIR LIVES. i know, it's fucking hard to believe, right?

    to be clear: almost everyone is racist, true. our institutions suck. language has meaning. we need a new standard of excellence. (better yet, like the finns, we should reject "excellence" in favor of equity and get on with it.) TFA folks can be either dilettantes or not. and miley cyrus is the new al jolson and has a really long tongue.

    call me a crazy veteran public school parent/european, but it seems to me like ms. royal was suggesting that these hordes of "young white women" step the fuck back and fuck off back to gap corporate (from whence they so clearly came, 'cause where else could they possibly have hailed?).

    seriously? that's your argument? that the only people even trying to do any goddamn thing just...poof? because they had the temerity to use a value-laden phrase some education apparatchik made up after a couple of dark and stormys that crept into the TFA vernacular one grim day?

    sorry, but no. try again. and let's hear less self-indulgent identity politics and more actionable solutions next time. you were obviously the beneficiary of a fancy education. use it.

  • amfriedman

    This article turns something quite technical into an eloquent and well-researched rant (but a rant nevertheless) that is merciless in its tired complexity and simmering fury about perceived enemies.

    The article is littered with passive voice, which probably indicates that, after scrutiny, the author is unable to outline clear cause and effect with subject-verb-object and instead drowns in a sea of symbolism, innuendo, and masturbatory self-expression. I've read a a decent pile of writing from the critical race/class/gender schools, and, while I enjoy the exercise in drawing historical connections to pop culture, most of it strikes me as overbaked and putridly academic. To me, the writers usually sound like they're about 20-25 years old and haven't really left school. Everyone and everything around us gets analyzed as if it is a work of literature in a college class. Fantastic leaps of logic are taken as a plumber who in passing mutters "I don't like that guy" is interpreted to mean "Because of my white privilege, I believe that that black man is without right to co-exist with me; but I only believe this because I have felt emasculated at birth due to my natural feelings of ambiguity regarding my sexual orientation which do not reconcile with the current patriarchical paradigm, and this man, with his perceived sexual prowess, is a loved-hated ideal for what society has pressured me to have and to wield: an extremely large penis."

    In all seriousness, I was surprised and relieved when the last sliver of this post actually provided an alternative terminology to "achievement gap." Kudos to the effort to actually move the issue forward in a positive way, however minimally.

    Strangely, one of her main objections is that the term "achievement gap" is a measurement of outcomes but not a measurement of cause. This is an absurd objection -- the term is simply (and I think, obviously) designed only to measure outcomes -- which would be educational reading/writing level, ability to solve certain types of math or logic problems, etc. This is the same thing as ranting against a chart entitled "Wealth Disparity" because sociologists fail to pack a chart's footnotes with historical context for how we got to this single outcome at this point in time.

    Now, we can certainly grapple with the (real) problem of racial bias in educational test construction, but I don't know of a single culture on this planet that does not value mathematical thinking or communication capabilities (whether that be written or oral). Therefore, measuring how developed or knowledgeable a student is in these disciplines has an inherent value and should have a simple term to define it.

    I would absolutely not rename this opportunity gap because "opportunity" is a nearly impossible outcome to measure, and besides, we are trying to measure demonstrated proficiency on educational tests.

    I am also not convinced that "gap" solely serves to "reify" the notion of European superiority over other ethnicities. Why can't it merely mean that one group -- any group -- should not be so far ahead of any other group? That's a gap, and that is a problem. Yes, of course, the whites are still ahead because this is the particular sordid legacy in the US. But I guarantee that you can find a group of poor eastern Europeans who have found their way to China, and compared to their hosts, they are probably analogous to blacks in America in these kinds of measurements.

    The only objection I think we have is the moral implications of the word "achievement" -- and someone who does not test well should never be judged to be inferior or less "good".

    Thus, I would propose naming it "test score gap" or "skill gap" so that we hone the term very specifically on a tool or an rational process that one group has been able to wield well and another group still needs further training on.

  • Annabel Tam

    I like the term "advantage gap", but I don't think this is an issue of race. It's an issue of socioeconomic status. It's a bit offensive to generalize that all white people have support from parents, are wealthy, and are achieving higher standards. Maybe you had that experience personally, but it is not everywhere. Parents should be doing their part, and like Charles Riley said "Why do people insist on having children that they can't or won't be a parent to?". Shouldn't parents being prepared to help their child do better than they did? Are we, as educators, not suppose to hold students (other than whites) to high expectations? Push them through the challenges and help them realize their potential, even if it means they don't get into Harvard. Are we now only to make excuses for their lack of achievement rather than finding out what is really holding them back? We should focus more on the whole child: Mental health? Witness to violence? Unhealthy behaviors? Drug abuse in self and family? These can be detrimental to a child's achievement. Those who are attached to an adult are proven to do better in school. Build their self esteem, build their relationships, built their skills.

    You seemed to have pushed through your education where you said "I had to learn that game on my own". This made you the thought provoking, motivated, passionate educator you are today. Many white people went through the same experience. There are neighborhoods where low income white people whose parents have only a high school education, if that. They struggle, they pushed forward, they do it on their own, and they are white.

    To close the advantage gap, we need to stop making this a race thing by further segregating people. As educators, we need to be proactive and go beyond the classroom to help students achieve. Parter with the community and have more supports in place. Race alone cannot be holding a student back, I cannot buy into that.

  • Charles Riley

    Why does ethnicity or economic status have anything at all to do with it?

    Isn't the real problem a lack of a decent home life? Lack of parenting skills? Lack of a good role model at home? Lack of someone willing to take away the xbox and make sure homework is getting done?

    All problems which I imagine go back generations in some cases.

    My kid would be failing in school right now, if I weren't taking an active role in his education. Do I want to spend time helping him with his homework or projects after putting in a full day at work? Not really, I can think of other things I'd like to do. I do it anyway, because to do otherwise would be to fail my son. Not an option.

    Why do people insist on having children that they can't or won't be a parent to?

    Whatever term you want to use to describe the problem, teachers and schools aren't the cause of it. Put the blame squarely where it belongs: on the parents.

    • Sooz Stahl

      Charles,

      I'm a high school teacher, 13 years in the classroom. I've had students who play xbox all night long, never do their homework, mouth off to their parents - and guess what? They ace the standardized tests. I've read studies that suggest the reason for this is that the tests are written by White, educated people - so White, educated people's kids are attuned to the cultural cues inherent in the reading passages and questions.

      If you think culture has nothing to do with this, don't listen to me; read up on it for yourself: http://teacherrevised.org/2009/03/24/standardized-testing-inadvertantly-or-not-they-are-racist/

    • Barbara Saunders

      You've just illustrated some of what the author was writing about. Your judgments about these students' home life is not completely coherent. You put in time helping a kid with projects "after a full day at work"? Great. Now try it after a full day of work plus a night job. Oh, and how is that kid going to perform in school if you had to wake him up at 1am to give that help? And if you, yourself, never took algebra, exactly how are you going to help him with algebra?

      I'm all for people preparing themselves as best they can to parent and then giving it 100% effort. But I cannot get behind a vision that limits parenthood to people with "good" jobs, middle-class salaries, and great educations themselves. Compensating for such deficiencies IS, in fact, why we have public schools and don't leave education to private tutors paid by families who can afford them.

      • Charles Riley

        My formal education ended when I graduated high school.
        You think I never had to work two jobs?
        What I did have was enough sense not to bring a child into the world that I was unprepared to care for.

        I see it now. You are absolutely right. The problem is NOT parents who bring kids into the world when they can barely take care of themselves. Clearly the education system is at fault.

    • ForStudentPower

      "All problems which I imagine" indeed. Sure, what you say might *sound* plausible to you, but since when does that necessarily make it true? You're going to want actual data to back up those conclusions, especially when you're a white dude insisting that race isn't an issue here.

      And especially when all available evidence actually points to the contrary: students from historically disadvantaged backgrounds are systemically denied the kind of funding and resources afforded their wealthier, whiter counterparts -- everything from decent textbooks to experienced teachers to functioning school buildings. http://www.otlstatereport.org/national/summary/state-comparisons

    • Andy G

      I lean towards agreeing with you more than agreeing with the article. However, I don't fully agree with either. The problem is with both. There are plenty of parents who do try to put in effort to help, but meet with teachers who don't care enough to put in their side. Yes, the parents could remove their child from that classroom or school, but not every parent has the money to have their child transferred. Things aren't always so black and white (pun intended). There's definitely an overlapping area where both the educators, the government, and the parents can all work harder or be to blame for different issues.

      My best friend is a school teacher, and I here stories from here on both ends of the spectrum. About teachers who don't teach, and parents who don't parent.

      Also, the government should not be removing teachers who are already in place and culturally adept and replacing them with fresh faces. They should be re-training the people who are currently in place.

  • Simon T

    Public school teacher here. The points made are good ones. I use the term "achievement gap", but I don't think I will anymore. Opportunity gap does seem more accurate.

  • tiffiniflynnmn

    I am a fan of Teach for America; however I applied and was not chosen for interview. I am a leader and child advocate however I have three children and did not have a leadership accomplishment that was good enough I guess for TFA. I agree with the term Achievement Gap it designates a traps a certain group of people into this "I can't" or "I am not good enough" category. I just attended a MMEP gathering which was addressing the same issue here in Minnesota. i am working towards my teaching license and am a substitute teacher. I have great impact from subbing because it is a systemic process issue and once we change the way educate instead of this institution style environment these kids are going to blossom.

    • dtay

      I'm not a fan of TFA. I don't know why people think that in a short amount of time one can become a better teacher than those who actually go through an internship. I regret the teachers I hired with little teaching experience. Good for you to get your teaching license and substitute in the meantime. Your experience will make you a better teacher. You should be very proud of yourself for doing it the hard way!

  • Through the Looking Glass

    I read this post and your response. As an African-African American mother of two, I applaud your post and mostly agree with you. For a start, I think we should use the term "opportunity gap" because I think it more accurately describes the phenomena. I like that you offer alternative terminology. But I do caution that if people get too focused on the language, they might miss your greater point -- that we should take a closer look at and challenge the standards used in assessing a student's potential. How about this --"If you care about education stop determining the potential or value of students based on assessments that really mostly get at how savvy parents of the student are at working the system or whether the parents of the student have the wherewithal to arrange for test-prep and tutors to enhance opportunity for their child." That practice is detrimental to all children, because it gives some children a false sense of superiority while encouraging a false belief among others (including working class white children) that they cannot excel academically. By focusing on the conditions that create the opportunity gap, we can think of solutions that will eliminate barriers to success. Also, a word of caution re: your statement regarding the removal of black educators. My mother worked for over 25 years in a school district where the teachers, administrators and school board were 95%+ black. Too many of those educators, who were themselves products of institutionalized racism, were poor at their jobs. My mother, an African-American woman who was a product of public housing, had that view from the inside. Another family member works at predominantly immigrant school where she is one of three teachers of color. There are too many white teachers at that school who also do a poor job; they are "cultural insensitive" (and I am being nice) and not too infrequently treat the children with disdain. Another view from the inside. Both of my family members would gladly embrace the removal and replacement of those inadequate teachers with teachers (of any race or ethnicity) who were dedicated, hard-working, professional and culturally sensitive. And I, who am a product of a public school education, can say based on my experience, we need to find more qualified teachers period and encourage teachers of all background who have the ability and commitment to join the profession. Most of my teachers while growing up were white, but I had a number of black teachers as well. Although I did encounter a few white teachers who were "culturally insensitive" (again, I am being generous here), the teachers that made the most lasting positive impact on my life happen to be the white ones. I can't say for certainty that those teachers "understood" my cultural background, but I can say for without a doubt that they respected my personhood. All of this to say, all I want for my children are teachers who teach well, respect my children for who they are and care. I encourage diversity in hiring at all levels, but I will never assume just because a teacher may bring a particular cultural insight to the table, that he or she is good a doing the job.

    • HannahLynn Demerson

      This is a wonderful response, and I would like to thank you for it. I have been teaching for 30 years in public school. I am ready to retire having seen and heard a great deal of nonsense repeated detailing statistics on gaps in performance scores on standardized tests. As long as there are housing inequities and gerrymandered school district lines, as long as the parents in one school come in and say, "Oh, your students don't have computers?" and the next day a shipment of computers arrives - while at the school across town there is no computer lab of any kind (where the Mexican students live), I can't see equity appearing on the horizon any time soon. I can't see how it can be OK to call Asian immigrant students LEPS. I can't see how it can be OK to call students who came here from another language group as FEPPed when they finally meet certain fluency criteria. It just doesn;t sound right. And when it doesn't sound right, it isn't.

  • MalikR

    Dr. Royal, this is an excellent piece. As a writer for the Black Press for over two decades, I too became pissed off with the usage of such terms and understood the implications of using such terms.
    I have written hundreds of articles and interviewed many of the top experts including Roy O. Freedle, former ETS lead researcher who talked about the racial bias of standardized testing. He gave one example, which ETS of course challenged, documenting how Black students actually fared better than White students on the toughest sections of the SAT. Yet since they traditionally scored lower, the questions were then viewed as an anomaly and thrown out.
    Most of the times I interviewed the top experts and policy groups about data on socioeconomic scoring gaps, they had little to no information or pulled all their data from categories that only divided groups into those eligible for free lunch and those ineligible. Yet they had data on all the race differences.
    There however, was no discussion on the "achievement gap" between Whites and Asians.Likewise, very little discussion on the impact of the shrinkage of Black teachers, even in urban school districts where Blacks are the majority and how that factors into teacher expectations which are a major indicator of student performance.
    When Black teachers began requesting the same salary and benefits as White teachers after the official end of segregation, the number of Black teachers teaching Black children began to spiral downward.
    I applaud your work and look forward to reading more of it.

  • Amanda Henry

    I agree wholeheartedly that the phrase "achievement gap" should be replaced. Perhaps with educational inequity, referring to the inequalities children face in their educations based on their socioeconomic status, and regardless of race. Where I find fault in your article, though, is in your generalization that all of us "young, white women" are "inexperienced, cultural tourists." I, for one, grew up in poverty, and while I may be white, spent much of my elementary school years in an urban, predominantly African American school. By making a blanket statement about white female TFA corps members, you are doing the thing you are criticizing--you are overgeneralizing and "ain't merely it," to quote your article.

    I wish you hadn't gone that route, as the issue of language is very important when discussing the opportunity gap. You're absolutely right that the phrase "achievement gap" is inaccurate and inflammatory, and should be replaced with a more accurate descriptor. However, your belief that because I am young, white and female, I don't fully understand the situation, or that I would EVER ask "What's wrong with them?" is equally inaccurate and inflammatory. I would encourage you to rethink this portion of your post, as it takes away from the rest of your vitally important argument.

  • Mr. Anon

    I'd like to just point out that I stopped reading when you got uppity that someone claimed that your discussion of the problematic nature of the phrase 'Achievement Gap' was semantics.

    The problem being that what you're discussing is exactly that. Semantics. To the point of being a textbook definition of the phrase. Dismissing someone saying that you are discussing the semantics of a phrase by saying that it is semantics shows an overall lack of understanding to what you're actually doing, that I chose not to use my time by finishing this article.

    Good sentiment, but perhaps you should try a bit harder next time.

  • KyMish

    If I had time right now I would look up some of the many studies that show predominantly white schools that are under-performing. Looks like non-white kids aren't the only ones having issues at school. Also, a whole lot of non-white immigrant kids are some of the highest performers, especially from the west indies and asia-pacific. Language is important, but this is a bad example.

  • MissG

    as a WHITE critical race theorist, i agree with camika on the power of language and semantics. i do, however, take issue with her argument on language and subsequent blanket usage of "white people." also, as a feminist and academic, i believe that a much more holistic approach to understanding inequality is through a lens of intersectionality - how each of our lived experiences are colored (no pun intended) by the sum of our parts - race, socioeconomics, gender, etc. it is so important to me that we discuss racial inequality in america, but, perhaps due to my white privilege, i fail to see how binary racial thinking is the answer. i agree that systemic inequality tends to align with race as a denominator. but still, poverty seems to predetermine educational achievement with greater impact than race or ethnicity.

    also, i write this as an educator in new orleans who works with, at the secondary level, primarily african american students. born to a teenage mother, i grew up in a single-parent household on welfare while my father was an addict and eventually incarcerated. unfortunately, this story is not unfamiliar to many of my students. rather than the color of my skin, it was these lived experiences that enable me to empathize, and, to be an effective educator.

    • Vast Shadow

      Its only used for statistic information. I'm white, male... Not a parent to my knowledge, but there really isn't race involvement with the use of achievement gap. If there was more black students doing well -- It would still hold that same terminology of Achievement gap, but other way around.

      What I do not like is normality procedure of child psychologist -- To say that a kid is normal by some standard.

      If you were a teacher, I'm sure you would have noticed as it has been a requirement for sometime to have a minor in psychology for teaching--that is, unless you are a charter-teacher.

      Normality is something that is so overly used and everything can be seen as a disorder... Its like they all forgot what its like to be a kid and lost that moment of daydream and of curiosity that all kids hold. The autism count is considered to be up, but I completely with numerous views... They say kids should be fully knowledgeful by age 2 or the kid is autistic. Having disregard or possibly they just want free hand-outs of money.
      Kids all learn differently... Just like adults, children articulate learnings in different means, but they set this normality check so ridiculous... A kid can not have their 'own words to anything or that kid is labeled autistic. An kids do that -- Have their own means of pronunciation and sometimes its half-accurate or their own word. BUT NOT to a autism certified checker... Nope, that kid is autistic!

      People take dyslexia inside the correspondents the same way -- Most kids can actually be sat down and taught to write and see things the CORRECT way. Sometimes it could evenly be a motor-skill deficit. As most kids learn ABCs but never are sat down to write them until they are in school, but if that kid writes a letter backwards... A certified dyslexic person says "THAT KID IS DSYLEXIC!"

      In both momentum they will label a kid with any disorder as fast as they can, hop them up full on pills... Before even trying to help them learn the right way.

      Some kids have a learning curve. There is a lot of Mexican children that have higher number of Dyslexic. Most of the kids of that ethnicity learn a little english or were taught heavily with Spanish. NOT CONSIDERED in any psychological analyzing of the child is ethnicity or heritage.
      Why would heritage contribute?
      Well, Spanish dialect is spoken in reverse or BACKWORDS. So thus, the students have arrangement of subject backwards in principle for the fact -- THAT SPANISH is a dialect in reverse.
      Other heritages, as like Russian & german have evenly backward letters in their language.

      But nope, psychologist will put a kid on pills kick them out the door and take that government funding or non-profit contribution with a smile on their face saying they helpin them kids!

  • nolo contendre

    While I can appreciate the offense to having the white establishment dictate to minority and underprivileged school systems how to improve their "achievement," the author is confusing causality with association. Yes, the term "achievement gap" may be frequently associated with racial comparisons, most often, with white superiority, but there is no evidence that the term causes the unfavorable comparison. An opportunity gap frequently does exist, but it's a misnomer for differences in achievement. In many school districts, Asians outperform whites, girls outperform boys - the same terminology applies. Changing the name will not help the real issue here, which is to what standard are we measuring achievement? There is an achievement gap between the performance of various groups in what, for now, is the standard of measurement, namely standardized testing. Any effort in semantics (yes!) only distracts from the work to be done to improve our standards of measurement, and, in fact, close the achievement gap.

    • HannahLynn Demerson

      Thought follows words. You said "white superiority" as though it exists.

  • springslatrice

    Excellent, well written and timely. Thank you Camika.

  • karenthompson21@msn.com

    Hi Camika,

    Thank you for writing this article and for sharing your views. I've always been uncomfortable with the term "achievement gap." To me, the term “achievement gap” means that students who are not at the level of the students who score at the highest levels have a deficit. When in actuality it’s not the student with a gap but where they are academically at that present moment in time within their system of education. Students who are continually referred to as part of the “achievement gap,” start to think of and see themselves in that way.

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  • danadana

    This is an important topic, but you, Camika, fall into the same trap in your article. You use labels to convey your message. I am a 40-something, college-educated white woman. But I grew up outside of Detroit in a de-segregated school district. I was the first in my working class family to go to college - but not because my parents paid for it, but because they told me my whole life that I was going and I would pay for it myself. Both of my parents grew up poor. Both are white, but my school and neighborhood were and still remain mixed up. And then there is today. We homeschool our 2 oldest because they are elite athletes. But our youngest goes to public school. Approx 50% of her classmates are on free or reduced lunch. 50% of the student body are not a color beyond white. BUT, that being said, the school supports and expects ALL of their students to achieve. Maybe I'm naive in that when I see a person, I rarely see their skin color first, so it's not my first thought. But although your highlights of underserved students being marginalized being valid, you don't actually help your cause by referring to policy makers and media as "white". It is equally offensive to people who don't live their lives by the color of skin.

    • watermelonvgp

      I think precisely not ever having lived aware of differences caused by the color of skin is called white privilege.

  • naulston

    Thank you Camika. I personally agree with what you are saying. I used a similar argument to talk about affirmative action (http://hipsterplatform.blogspot.com/2012/10/affirmative-action-at-university-of.html). I think when you devalue the lens which the idea of "achievement" has been created, as mbrenman has, then it easy to believe that achievement/success has one track and can only be achieved in one way.

    ps. Shot out to my former boss spjika, he knows his stuff!

  • spjika

    I hear what you're saying, and it makes a lot of sense. We worked on setting up the African American Male Achievement initiative in Oakland unified 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. 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/

  • mbrownrigg

    Very well written and I agree, "achievement gap" as presently used is bizarre and probably unhealthy. Are we going to examine the achievement gaps between all groups? It leads to ugly generalizations. That said, what such a phrase is MEANT to do is to create a metric of sorts, which in a way is what No Child Left Behind was meant to do (I know most people reading this are now angry). If we do not measure a student's progress (any student, all students) and if we do not have benchmarks or expectations, then we will leave a lot of good kids behind because we will not know (or care) that they are not achieving their potential. So by all means, let's get rid of the "achievement gap", let's stop testing as frequently, but let's NOT then open up (or exacerbate) the expectations gap. We expect YOU to succeed and will hold you accountable; we are not surprised YOU are failing and indeed we do not even see a need to measure your progress against some standard, who cares. That is much much more pernicious I think.

    • HannahLynn Demerson

      No child left behind whose parents make over $250K/yr. That is the real "
      metric."

  • jessica goldhirsch

    Camika, Thanks so much for this important post! The defined need to be the definers!!! Labels hold more meaning than too many of us realize. This was great.

  • marvinlzinn

    I do not understand the meaning of this. "Whiteness" never had anything to do with specific people except meaning "superior". The change from "Caucasian" and "Negro" (or colored people) originated from members of KKK because Black meant "inferior", (I know all about this because I had friends with them at that time, and departed because of it.) In the 20 countries where I worked I never once saw any person with a color of black or white. They do not exist, never have! So why can't we just ignore appearance and value quality of the heart, mind, and soul. God does, and He will never accept anything else.

    As for education, some need more help. Let those who have it easy help those who don't, Do not call them anything but their name, and love them without attention to a grade they earn.

  • Meltonc

    Hi Camika,

    First of all, thank you for publicly stepping into very tumultuous waters...As an instructional coach in a public middle school (where I've taught for 11 years now) where most of our students are Latino, English Language Learners, and receive free and reduced lunch, I am quite versed in the academic struggles of our students. I also understand your concern around the term "achievement gap." My question to you is, if language is fundamental to meaning--that indeed, semantics do matter--why the consistent reference to "white folks" when you're referring to professionals is the education field? I myself am white and have devoted all of my adult life to the underserved populations that well, don't look like me. It doesn't by any means declare me a saint, and I too would also like to see more teachers of color in the classroom. But, your statement that "accomplishing education reform by removing black educators and replacing them with young, white, and inexperience cultural tourists" is just unfair. Removing black educators? Surely you don't mean to attack those of us who understand the complexities involved in providing a solid education so that ALL of our students can succeed in an ever-changing world.

    Thank you again for your dialogue,
    CM in SF

  • mbrenman

    This is the first time I've heard that someone feels the term "achievement gap" "blames the historically marginalized, under-served victims of poor schooling". I don't think it does. It doesn't hold whiteness as the standard for education, but rather achievement.

    • graceadams830

      The definition of and measures of "achievement" tend to very much reflect the culture of those doing the defining and measuring. I once tried to become a high school math teacher. (I gave up because I was not able to get 7th graders to be quiet and sit still) I took a course in classroom management from a saint with war stories about her young adulthood as a beginning teacher in Chicago and how with moral support from her principal and material support from her husband who owned a car dealership she was able to considerably improve grades and test scores in the school where she taught by feeding a bunch of otherwise starving students at the school. Shocking that something as basic as nutrition should make so much difference.

  • lwetterhahn

    Hi Camika --

    Your article has given me a lot to think about and has left me wondering (if you are reading the comments) how to address racial disparities in health (as opposed to education) outcomes without falling into the same trap. One of the central duties of people working in public health (like me!) is to address health and disease inequalities. Since white people usually have the best outcomes compared to other groups, we are able to advocate for funding and programs that specifically address communities of color because we can point to a clear race-based difference in health outcomes. I am wondering how we can continue to draw attention and resources to race-based inequalities in health without using measures and terms that privilege the white experience as the standard with implicit blame for poorer outcomes going to people of color?

    -- Lauren

    • marvinlzinn

      I'll bet there is worse health because of lack of healthy food, or ignorance of the difference between that and junk. Cheap "fast" food is a lot more expensive for medical need from it.

  • Emily Pasnak-Lapchick

    Opportunity gap sounds more appropriate. Thank you SO much for writing this! I especially love: "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."

  • Vast Shadow

    Racial comparison is something the government uses for statistics. Its not to discriminate anyone as different, its just that statistics can give analyzed outcome and that can be set for focal points. If some white people are haven low averages... They can over look the things they are being taught in that community -- They can look at living situations.
    People still live in communities that orient around under race. There is black communities... White communities... Mexican communities... Asian communities... It does seem counter reactive to race concerns, but people sometimes just feel more comfortable in some settings. But most newer generations are getting over that.

    I feel comfortable anywhere -- Back in highschool everyone knew me. I didn't have a specific group I ALWAYS hung out with. I felt comfortable anywhere... Not many people are like that -- Many people would stand around others that dressed a-like. Like everyone was in some uniformed cult. Many were multi-racial in the peer group, but the all dressed the same.
    People still do that today in public schools, but just in higher numbers... An mainly in specific trends and not so much clothing fads -- Such as now, computers are fashion-able...

    Statistic information is all they really separate into those race section chart. The statistics are used for social work. I'm not certain how they average out or even use those numbers in social case managements, but its why we select our race in forms.

    • Bikepetal

      Thank you for writing this important piece. You are absolutely correct, language as a label is often used as a surrogate for racism. This has been so clear watching the right wing media discuss the causes for the election results.