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h/t to Mrs. Carr for sending along the article that inspired this post. You can find the original article on Money, Race and Success here

The sub-title in the New York Times read: “Sixth graders in the richest school districts are four grade levels ahead of children in the poorest districts.”

I had to stop and read it again. Four grade levels ahead? Richest school districts vs poorest districts? What is going on and where do we begin? How do we address these gaps in real time and not just in our research?

The authors of the article shared deep research about the intersections of race and class in schooling. Without reading the article, you may have already known that students in well-resourced school districts perform higher than students in under-resourced school districts. And, in our country, where race and class are so tightly intertwined, it is important to consider that race, class and schooling impact each other. 

But, what does all of that mean for a private, independent school where almost half of the population identifies as coming from a combination of African, Latino, Asian, Native American and multiracial backgrounds? Does this kind of article have any relevance to the daily work that we do?

Yes. 

There are key points in this article that directly impact and inform the work that we do at an independent school:

For one, racial achievement gaps were also shown to be prevalent in affluent schools. Why? “Part of the answer might be that in such communities, students and parents from wealthier families are constantly competing for ever more academic success. As parents hire tutors, enroll their children in robotics classes and push them to solve obscure math theorems, those children keep pulling away from those who can’t afford the enrichment.” So, while students of color at affluent schools might outperform students of color from under-resourced schools, there is still a race and class gap that exists. 

In some cases, the gap effect is longitudinal and compounded. “In some communities where both blacks and whites or Hispanics and whites came from similar socioeconomic backgrounds, academic gaps persisted. Mr. Reardon said that educators in these schools may subliminally – or consciously in some cases – track white students into gifted courses while assigning black and Hispanic students to less rigorous courses.” In practice, this may play out when students from affluent backgrounds are given more challenging math problems or more challenging books to read. Over time, student opportunities to be given more challenging materials are compounded, resulting in deeper skill development or confidence in their work. 

It is important not to take a one-and-done approach to solving the achievement gap. “Silvia Abbato, the district’s superintendent, said she could not pinpoint any one action that had led to the better scores. She noted that the district uses federal funds to help pay for teachers to obtain graduate certifications as literacy specialists, and it sponsors biweekly parent nights with advice on homework help for children, nutrition and immigration status.” Parent education is as important as child education when it comes to a collaborative approach to learning. Schools that have successfully implemented parent education programs are more likely to engage in the educational experience of their children. 

And, finally, in schools that have minimized the gap, assessment is as important to informing the praxis of the teachers as it is to assess the achievement of students: “The district regularly revamps the curriculum and uses quick online tests to gauge where students need more help or whether teachers need to modify their approaches.”

So, what action items can we take at Park? Here are a few:

  • Be aware that achievement gap is not solely limited to public schools and related to class. This research, along with scores of others, have demonstrated that achievement gap exists within affluent communities as well. 
  • Acknowledge that teaching practices, structures and opportunities to get involved, and ongoing assessment are important to minimizing the achievement gap.
  • Critically examine the “chicken and the egg” practice of opportunity and skill. Which comes first? Demonstration of skill or opportunities to develop them? How are we, as teachers and parents, providing a challenging environment for children to gain confidence through trial-and-error?
  • Ask yourself how (not if) race, racial identity, and class inform your work. Don’t waste time wondering if they do. Spend time thinking about how it does.

We can’t solve the race and class gap on our own. But, we do have to start with acknowledging our own role in keeping the gap going.

Peace and Park, 

Dr. Talusan