Thursday, April 9, 2015

Achievement Gap or Opportunity Gap?

At last... researchers in Boston are talking about the "opportunity gap" rather than just the "achievement gap." An Annenberg Institute study, released in November, revealed stark opportunity gaps and a separate, lesser educational track for black and Latino males in Boston.
Black and Latino males collectively make up about 78 percent of Boston schools’ male population. At every stage of education, black and Latino males have limited access to rigorous coursework such as advanced work classes, elite exam schools and college readiness curricula. As a result, the report says, black and Latino males in Boston schools have lower attendance rates, higher suspension and dropout rates, lower proficiency rates and lower graduation rates than peers. -- Learning Lab
Another recent study authored by UC Berkeley prof, Bruce Fuller,  found that a significant percentage of Mexican-American children who matched their white counterparts in cognitive growth at 9 months of age had fallen behind by the time the children reached 2 years old.

These findings exist even though other research has found that based on other measures, such as social and emotional growth and physical health, young Mexican-American children are quite similar to white children.
"These youngsters grow up in warm and supportive families and that yields emotional and social agility," Fuller said in an interview. "But all that caring and support isn't necessarily infused with rich language and asking kids questions and asking kids to articulate words and their own feelings." 
Mexican-American children who demonstrated strong cognitive growth in the study were more likely to have had mothers who had completed some college, worked outside the home, and read to their children daily, the study found.

Fuller's conclusions reflect his own racial bias as well. They reflect a whitenized vision of what good parenting is. Omit assets Mexican-American children carry with them.

Studies like these shine a light on the process of  systemic social reproduction, meaning the structures and activities that transmit social inequality from one generation to the next.

For example, our increased reliance on standardized testing as the indicator of "student achievement" only serves to maintain social and economic inequality. Higher education, rather than being the great social equalizer, threatens to become the great gate keeper as tests are used increasingly to sort and track kids rather than diagnostic tools for educators. Poverty and racial discrimination are seen simply as a "excuses" for poor performance.


  1. Rick Ayers on Facebook:
    This [UC Berkeley study] is typical white supremacist research. "a weakness of parenting in the U.S. context. . . not up to snuff," all based on whiteness as the standard. Read Ana Zentella's Growing Up Bilingual - these very young Latino kids in Harlem are tri-lingual and have brilliant literacy skills; but they are judged deficient in US schools because they don't talk like white middle class people.

  2. The most vital point of this post was the suggestion that higher education may be en route to becoming the gatekeeper of success for less advantaged populations. Regardless of Fuller et al.’s ‘white supremacist version’ of what good parenting is, the fact is that many Mexican-American parents simply do not have the resources to provide the same sort of attention to their children’s traditional education as do their more advantaged counterparts (e.g. around ¼ of all Mexican Americans versus 1/10 of all White Americans lived in poverty between 2007 and 2011 according to the US Census). It can be argued that all parents want their children to be successful but only have the resources to support them is certain ways. Certain children may not be able to have the experiences that white Americans have or that college admissions offices value (ie. Being soccer captain, class president, and volunteer leader while maintaining a 4.0 GPA) because they are spending his or her time learning other skills. If measured on a different metric, it can be argued that Mexican American (or any underprivileged minority) kids ARE just as ‘successful’ as white kids, if not more so (e.g. Gamboa, April, 2015). For the advancement of Mexican American families, it is imperative that not only college admission offices, but society at large, recognizes that the skills that are not traditionally impressive or quantifiable by test scores are also valuable. For example, a student who could not do all of the hot topic college admission activities (see above) but instead worked a job to contribute to her family income, cooked for her family, and took care of her siblings while going to school is prepared for real life in a way that the previous ‘appealing’ prospective college student could not imagine. By emphasizing the importance of different types of accomplishments and successes, the gatekeepers of college admissions (and therefore higher socio-economic standing) could change the outcomes of Mexican American families. Not only that, if non-traditional values (e.g. knowing how to cook) become appealing to college admissions, we might see more advantaged kids learning those skills and thus entering college with less of a shock to the system of learning to be self-sufficient.

    Fuller, B., Bein, E., Kim, Y., & Rabe-Hesketh (2015). Differing cognitive trajectories of Mexican American toddlers: The Role of class, nativity, and maternal practices. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Science 37(2), 139-169.

    Gamboa, M. (2015, April) Family time: The effect of family maintenance activities on low-income urban adolescent achievement. Oral session presented at the ACC Meeting of the Minds Conference, Raleigh, NC.

    Macartney, S., Bishaw, A., & Fontenot, K. (2013) Poverty rates for selected detailed race and Hispanic groups by state and place: 2007-2011. U.S. Census Bureau: American Community Survey Briefs. 1-20.


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