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Achievement or Opportunity Gap, a Great Teacher Makes it Disappear

A Nashville high school student says the real achievement gap at her school "is figuring out if you want to apply yourself or not."


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This is the third post in a five-part series from Teach For America corps members and alumni about the use of the phrase "achievement gap" both within the organization and the wider education community.

There are two types of teachers in the world: a teacher who cares about their students' performance and a teacher who doesn't. What we have in schools is not an achievement gap—it's an opportunity gap—and with the right resources, there is no gap. Resources do not have to be material things such as money for proper textbooks. The best resource for a student is a teacher.

I was fortunate to attend KIPP: Nashville, a middle school where the teachers never underestimated us. The majority of the students at my school were African Americans from North and East Nashville. Teachers knew our potential when we didn't.

At KIPP: Nashville, we didn't have any math textbooks, but that didn't stop us from learning in our math class. We didn't have a proper library, but that didn't stop our English teachers from sectioning off a quarter of their classroom for a "mini-library" so we could still read books.

Those are just a few things my teachers did for us to show us there is a way to learn and be outstanding without the things other privileged students had. We wanted to be the best middle school in Nashville. Nothing was going to hold us back and nothing did. Not once in my middle school years did I hear anyone say anything about an achievement gap. Looking back, I wonder why the achievement gap was never talked about back then.

After leaving KIPP: Nashville, I went on to high school at The Harpeth Hall School, an all-girls private high school. I've never once heard the term "achievement gap" spoken here. There’s no reason for it. I have all the textbooks I need, and a wonderful library and teachers that care. Maybe the real reason I don’t hear the term is because in Nashville there is no school better than Harpeth Hall. Harpeth Hall is a majority white school where everything and everyone in it is charged to help its students be the best prepared for college.

The real achievement gap here is figuring out if you want to apply yourself or not. Prior to Harpeth Hall, I learned at KIPP to apply myself to reach the goals I want in life no matter how hard it is. That was the word to live by, because there were limited resources. There is another factor thrown into the term achievement gap and that is wealth regardless of race. Money knows best, right? At Harpeth Hall there is an abundance of resources and all you have to do is try. The gap here is between what you say you are and who you really are.

There shouldn't be any racial connection to the term achievement gap, but there is. Who is to say that the white community should set the bar for what our nation’s education system aspires to be? A long time ago, when there was a true achievement gap—when African Americans had little to no access to education—that was an appropriate time to try and model the education systems of the white community. Now things need to be shifted in a new light. Hard work and dedication should set the bar for our nation.

A version of this post originally appeared at Pass The Chalk

Elementary student with teacher image via Shutterstock

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