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The Politics of Race and the Achievement Gap


If you haven't seen this Washington Post piece by a Virginia high school teacher, you might want to take a look. Patrick Welsh, a teacher at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, manages to say volumes in a very short space about the political correctness that can shape the achievement-gap conversation. Check it out. Also, read John Thompson's compelling blog post about it over at This Week in Education, as well.


Here, Here !!

All the more reason to eliminate these massive urban/suburban/countywide districts created in the name of "equalization of funding" and return to the concept that each, individual community be accountable for its children and schools. The ancient Romans utilized the concept successfully. Utah is proof that higher per pupil spending and consolidation for the sake of cost effectiveness are not prerequisites for success.

The Constitution does not guarantee equal conditions for all. It guarantees that by being a citizen, one has equal opportunity for the pursuit. It is NOT the role of government to solve all problems. If government must be directly involved, it is LOCAL government with the capacity to be more responsive and accountable to the needs of their constitutents because they too, live in the community.

Grassroots efforts have historically proven to be the better agents for change. The Federal Government is NOT an example of providing grassroots community activism. I find it odd that the President is putting states into competition for federal assistance considering that the children in states that do not receive some of the money become victims of their state's ineffectiveness or indifference.

I wonder how many parents who receive publicly funded vouchers for sending their children to private schools spent 1 day a week.... no.... 1 day a month... helping the struggling readers in their former neighborhood public school, or serving regularly on the PTA, or scrubbing down the restrooms so the custodians could focus on other needs? (After all.... we hopefully scrub our toilets at home when we SEE THE NEED).

If having "Small Learning Communities" WITHIN schools is a good idea for keeping better tabs on the progress of all the little hoo-ha's, then why not just start with a small community?

The teachable moment for Mr. Welsh would have been to guide the fatherless students into personal pro-action.

The kids claimed they had no one to "kick their butts"... ok...

1. They demonstrated the capacity to learn.
2. They acknowledged the fact that often, the playing field will not be level.
3. They revealed an understanding of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.
4. They recognized what they should have been doing to avoid such a "kick" in the first place.
5. They exposed at least some prior indifference, having not worked as dilligently as necessary, toward achieving their own goals and...
5. They have leaned toward shifting the responsibility for the "gap" they now face, onto a third party.

The only person who can close the gap is the person who WANTS to make it to the other side.

Patrick Welsh is to be congratulated for both his level of concern and his thinking about the situation in which he and his students find themselves. I am troubled, however, by where that thinking leads--or does not lead. Why is it that his students have no fathers at home? The implication is that this is a matter of choice on the part of the fathers. If so, there is little to be done. However, it is generally accepted by researchers that the absence of fathers in high poverty African American communities is in large part attributable to policing practices and choices made by prosecutors and judges. The fathers are not at home because they are in jail, or have had their economic potential destroyed by terms in jail, and they have been jailed because police disproportionately arrest African American men for the same matters for which they do not arrest White, non-Latino men; because prosecutors are more likely to press charges against African American men, and judges are more likely to sentence them to jail, and for longer periods, than White men.

That is how it is. It is not something schools can change, that is up to legislators and public interest law firms.

Given this, what is in the power of schools to do to help these students Yvette Jackson, calls "school-dependent learners"?

Patrick Welsh will find a good model nearby in the Montgomery County schools, where "academically oriented" pre-k and a well-thought-out array of programs and needs-based funding have succeeded in closing the achievement gap at the elementary level and are well on their way to doing so at later grades.

Montgomery County is not alone in this. The very disparities in African American achievement across the country--with graduation rates varying from below 30% in places like New York City to more than twice that in Newark (!)--demonstrates that schools, districts and states that provide their African American students with the education (in the broadest sense) they need to achieve can be effective in narrowing, and, ultimately, closing the achievement gap.

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  • Michael Holzman: Patrick Welsh is to be congratulated for both his level read more
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