Monday, September 08, 2008

Why won't the "achievement gap" go away?

We just got our API scores from last spring's state testing, and although our school had an overall gain of 3 points, many of our sub-groups - including black students - didn't attain the goals. Much handwringing goes on around the country and in our state about the so-called "achievement gap" that exists between white and Asian students on the one hand, and black and Hispanic students on the other. In the end, the comparisons are narrowed down to black vs. white, as many things tend to be in this country.

I continue to be amused at the education wonks who just can't seem to figure out why such an "achievement gap" exists. I am still not sure if they truly don't know, or if they really do and are just afraid to acknowledge the logical reasons for fear of being called a racist. For me, it is not hard to find examples of why black students continue to underpeform in school. I watch the process with my own eyes, and I then I also read accounts from other sources. One such source includes a book I am currently reading called And Still We Rise: The Trials and Triumphs of Twelve Gifted Inner-City Students. The book was written by L.A. Times reporter Miles Corwin, and though it was released in 1997, not much if anything has changed in that 11 years. The achievement gap existed back then too. Here is a passage from the book (pp. 198-199) that speaks bucketloads toward explaining the chronic underperformance of black students:
When Curt was in elementary school, [his mother] Yvonne demanded that he do his homework in the kitchen, right next to her, while she completed her medical paperwork (she was a chiropractor). Every night when Curt had finished, she inspected his homework, to make sure it met her standards. Curt was never allowed to use street slang in the house, and if he ever spoke in a manner that his mother did not consider "proper English," she corrected him. She refused to allow him to wear baggy or hip hop clothes.
So you see some of the things that have made this student successful, such as dogged parental involvement and high behavior standards at home and at school. Now look what threatened to drag Curt down, and notice that it got worse during Middle School (naturally):
Curt has been classified by the school district as "highly gifted," and in the predominately black elemenatry school he attended, he was enrolled in several gifted classes. But in mainstream courses, he constantly was harassed by the other students. They did not like his precise manner of speaking, his preppy clothes, the way he would volunteer answers in class. he was called a "punk" and a "fag." He was accused of "acting white." In class he was teased constantly. In the schoolyard, he was goaded into fights.

"Curt would get interested in a subject and during lunch he would read the encyclopedia," Yvonne recalls. "But he'd have to do it on the sly, hide what he was doing. He was afraid someone would see him and begin teasing him again. He was so confused. It's very tough for a young black male who wants to be a scholar. Curt wanted to be a scholar, but he didn't want to deal with kids telling him he was selling out his race. That's a heavy load for a child to deal with."

During junior high school, Curt finally succumbed to the peer pressure. He wanted to fit in, so he stopped raising his hand in class, stopped striving for As. His mother could see that his enthusiasm for learning was ebbing....
Curt went on to find out about the gifted student program at Crenshaw High School in south-central Los Angeles, and found his niche there among other hard-working and studious pupils where he could flex his academic muscles without fear of being marginalized by his fellow students.

The above passage is not the only instance in the book that this atmosphere of anti-intellectualism is aired; Corwin talks about it in the book's introduction on page 4:
At many inner-city schools, the peer pressure to fail is oppressive. Students who are articulate, who excel in class, are accused of "acting white," of "selling out." Many of the students I write about have endured this type of hazing in the school lunchroom, at the bus stops, in their neighborhoods, on the playgrounds....
God Almighty! Please explain to me how black students are ever going to improve their academic progress when to do so means to be ostracized and accused of betraying their race... by their own peers no less? Can you think of a social system that is more perverted than one where trying to do well in school is looked down upon and discouraged? Can you imagine a philosophy more diabolically twisted than one that believes that striving to do well in school is seen as not being "black"? The Ku Klux Klan could not be more proud of the blacks in this country who are perpetuating this belief.

Meanwhile, pointy-headed academics and education wonks sit around and wonder why too many black students aren't doing well in school, and many activists and pundits insist that the entire "acting white" phenomenon, where studious and/or articulate black students are tormented by their peers for "selling out", is a myth.

Good Day to You, Sir


Larry said...

Kindasorta off topic. But...

Am I the only one who noticed (no, there is a video clip out that highlights what I am about to mention, but I have not seen anybody right about)...your don't grade our writing do you...

In the convention videos and what little TV I watched, there was a youngster (10 years old?) on-camera a lot, well dressed, poised, quiet, well-behaved, polite even when she disagreed.....

I don't know which is my favorite but the two finalists are Piper Palin urging her family to stand up for what ever it was that everybody else was standing up for and Her kitty-combing her baby brother's hair. Also in contention: John McCain, hands on knees, stooped over to talk to her about something obviously important to both of them in the post-speech accolades noise.

ms-teacher said...

My thesis for my M.Ed. had to do with parental involvement. In reading the research articles for my literature review, I came upon several articles that covered this very topic.

When looking at the academic success/failure of students in SF, the main reason that students were either successful or not had to do with their peers. The peer group for Asian students was such that they pushed each other to be successful and it wasn't looked at as acting white. Obviously, this was also something that was enforced by their parents as well. Many African American students reported that their peers weren't supportive of those who were doing well in school. Even if they had parents at home who pushed for academic success, when in middle school and high school, that became secondary to how they appeared before their peers.

I believe I still have the titles of those articles if you're interested!

Chanman said...

Ms. Teacher,
I would LOVE to get those titles.

Thanks for your interest.

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