The Achievement Gap to Me

Opinion: Columns

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By John Hubbuch

I have completed watching all of the episodes of America to Me. Since no one except me subscribes to Starz, the only person I could discuss the documentary with was Marsha. I think the documentary may be subtly subversive of the conventional wisdom about the longstanding achievement gap at the high school.

A preliminary observation: There was nothing very revelatory. Having lived here for 42 years, served a 4-year term on District 97's school board, acted as OPRF's Booster Club president for 10 years, fathered three sons who played basketball from age 8 at the YMCA through junior high and then senior high, I am not unfamiliar with the issues of race addressed by this documentary. 

However, I am not black. Nor am I a woman, Hispanic or gay. I am not what is pejoratively called "a knee-jerk white liberal," but I am arguably an unintentionally soft racist.

Now that that's out of the way, I really liked all the segments about the students. I got caught up in their stories, just like a Dickens novel. 

I so wanted Kendale to win the state championship wrestling match, not only for his sake but also his parents and his coaches.

I thought Tiara was going to fail chemistry, but with her mom's and her teacher Mr. Bernthal's help, she passed. Charles crushed it at the poetry slams. The team had a great season. It was very cool that the coaches found a role for Chanti on the team. It helped her work through her trauma issues. The love and commitment that Terrence's mom had for him was truly remarkable. In fact, I loved all the kids and hope life works out for them. I had forgotten how hard it is to negotiate the half adult/half child nether world of adolescence, regardless of the color of your skin.

Frankly, I was bored by almost all the scenes involving the faculty, administrators and board. They almost always came across as polemical, redundant, cumulative, evasive or egoistic. And, as always, there are never any specific solutions for a problem that simply cannot be solved at the high school. Twenty-five years of data surely suggest that good intentions, white guilt, passion and zealotry may not be the way forward. (See Ahab, Captain; Quixote, Don, et al)

I suspect the answer is more modest. One rooted in reality instead of the frustrating, fruitless pursuit of some kind of magic bullet that will somehow transform the school, even society.

Almost all of these students, black and white, seemed to be negotiating their very different, personal situations. Each of them had been thrown into a world they had absolutely no control over. Thereafter, through infancy, early childhood, puberty and adolescence, they have confronted lives over which they had little choice or control.

Then as 14-year-olds, they all go to a diverse — albeit white — majority high school. One size does not fit all. This is a large, diverse, complex high school. It is not a lab school. It is not a charter school. Priorities differ.

Each student has different needs, dreams and preparedness. America to Me suggested that the students, parents and faculty were doing the best they could in difficult circumstances. Specific clubs, sports and competitions provided essential connections to the high school. The parents and teachers cared about the kids and were working in partnership with each other to help the student. Outcomes varied, but all the students seemed to have had some successes, and were better prepared for the uncertain future they all faced.

So please stop talking about the achievement gap. It distracts from the issue at hand: trying to educate, in the broadest sense of that word, each child. All the discussion about the difference in white and black cultures gets in the way of seeing each child as a unique human being. I felt the students were much less interested and invested in race than the adults, and that was a good thing.

No doubt a little learning is a dangerous thing, but so is too much ideology.

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Kenn Meade  

Posted: November 14th, 2018 4:35 PM

This reader would like to share a data-based examination of the existence of an achievement gap nationally--one that can't logically be said to reflect badly on what schools are doing.. .In thinking about the achievement gap, it is useful to consider national trends in average test performance for students who take an internationally recognized test, such as the SAT, for example. As indicated in the table, below, the All Student average for SAT Critical Reading hasn't changed materially in recent decades?" true as well for average scores of groups classified by race/ethnicity ?" except for Asian-Americans, who have closed the reading achievement gap How did they do it? Quien sabe. Table 1. SAT Critical Reading average, selected years 1987 '97 2001 '06 '11 '15 507 505 506 503 497 495 All students 524 526 529 527 528 529 White 479 496 501 510 517 525 Asian/Pac 471 475 481 487 484 481 Amer Ind 457 451 451 454 451 448 Mex-Am 436 454 457 459 452 448 Puerto R 464 466 460 458 451 449 Oth Hisp 428 434 433 434 428 431 Black SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.(2012). Digest of Education Statistics, 2011 (NCES 2012-001), Chapter 2. SAT averages for ollege-bound seniors, by race/ethnicity: Selected years,1986-87 through 2010?"11 Data for 2015 If SAT averages haven't changed materially for almost 30 years, despite the effort, time and money expended to improve educational programs for all students, it seems reasonable to assume that we shouldn't expect any meaningful change in average performance in this critically important ability in the foreseeable future. Which leads to the $64 question: what if the achievement gap is here to stay? Of course, the fact that average reading scores haven't declined, suggests that our schools must be doing something right!

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