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Inequity in Education is Your (and My) Responsibility

March 1, 2018
Kate Gerson
Getting Smart

There is a great injustice happening in our schools, and it’s happening on our watch. What’s happening can be seen in national reports. The reading and math scores of our white students continue to be higher than the scores of our black and Latino students. In fact, the 30+ point gap between these groups’ National NAEP reading scores has been virtually unchanged since 1990. ACT scores show that black, Latino, and native American high school graduates are particularly unprepared for college, with less than half meeting three or more preparedness benchmarks. The popular way of framing these numbers is that they represent an “achievement gap.”

But that couldn’t be further from the truth. This is not a gap that belongs to the students.  This is a gap that we, the adults, are providing. This is a provision gap. It’s on us.

I started with these numbers because as a former teacher and principal, as well as a longtime advocate for racial equity, I know these statistics are more than numbers—they are actual children. These are the children who will soon be adults living in a complicated political landscape, a constantly evolving global economy, and a world with many intellectual demands.

The truth is, there is a very real connection between academic performance and the ability to read and do math well enough to handle what comes in college and career. That correlation is why recognizing and facing our racialized expectations for students is critical. It’s why milestones in grade level mastery are critical. When we don’t pay attention to these things, we aid a system of compounding inequities. By conflating the current state of our students’ knowledge and skill with what is possible for them this year and next year and by graduation, we perpetuate a status quo in which our black and brown students are falling further and further behind their white and Asian peers every day, even if they started out as high-achieving.

Fortunately, we can begin to change this failing system by changing the way we act in and around school. That process begins when everyone in the education system, from teachers to nonprofits, becomes invested in the work.