Which "Gap" Can Public Education Truly Close?

There was a story thread at Education Post (a mostly ed reformy blog) about closing the "belief gap."

We hear a lot about the academic struggles of low-income students and students of color—particularly comparing them to their White and wealthier peers.

Typically, we hear these disparities described as gaps: Achievement Gap, Opportunity Gap, Wealth Gap, Discipline Gap, etc.

But there’s another gap we have to tackle: the Belief Gap.

The Belief Gap is the gap between what students can achieve and what others believe they can achieve.
They then cite examples like fewer students of color in gifted and talented programs, students of color who have good grades but don't apply to college and implicit bias from teachers in the form of not seeing students of color as "college material."

But then they say "poverty is not destiny."  On the surface that's true.  There are too many examples to name of people who have risen above poverty.  (Side note: I have always wanted more research into why some kids in poverty are able to rise above their circumstances and other kids in poverty can't.  Is it one factor or multiple ones? And, what can government/society do, if anything?)

No, poverty is NOT destiny but again, if people believe schools can do it all, then I say, show me the money.  All the problems of society and home do NOT stop at the schoolhouse door.  Wrap-around services like healthcare, food resources, etc? Show me the money. 

We see conservatives that say, "Look at all the money being spent on schools" versus those on the left "We need to support the whole child." There needs to be some agreed-on middle ground.

Naturally, this bumps right into accountability for all the funds spent which is something that SPS is not really good at.  The SEA thinks the district has some huge amount of money stashed away.  They might be right and I wouldn't be surprised. 

To circle back, we have a society that claims to care about kids (well, some kids as our government currently keeps some children in cages and says they don't even deserve soap) and yet many kids languish in bad buildings with few resources.  In Washington State, that's a no-go as public education is the paramount duty of this particular society.

Is the belief gap the real problem or is it poverty and all its outcomes for kids? 


Anonymous said…
Do we really need more terms to try to describe the problem? We already moved from “achievement gap“ to “opportunity gap“ to better reflect that it’s the system’s or society’s’ fault that some groups of kids are not achieving as highly others, and the components of that “opportunity gap” are broad and diverse: poverty, access to healthcare, safety, family support, school quality, cultural inclusion, disciplinary practices, teacher biases, etc. This new “belief gap” is clearly one component of the larger “opportunity gap.” Do we really need to give each component of the problem its own catchy name, or can we just focus on the many already-known components of the opportunity gap and start addressing them?This seems like a distraction, when we really just need action. I think most schools and teachers already committed to increasing opportunities and raising the achievement of underserved students understand that teacher bias can play a role, and that they need to expect more of students. For those who refuse to believe that their biases play a role, however, I don’t see that calling out the “belief gap” will help that much. But maybe I’m wrong. I just see this as wasted effort to further describe a problem we all know exists, rather than needed effort to try to solve it.

All types
Unknown said…
How much of the belief gap is driven by the schadenfreude that white-savior-type people love to display while hand-wringing, emoting, and asserting that they are the allies who can make a difference?

Stereotype threat is constantly stoked by these white-saviors trying to outdo each other for the title of "Best White Person in the Room."

I'm not saying we should ignore the gaps, but I am pointing out that we are locked into a dysfunctional loop that calls on us to think differently and not just ratchet up the histrionics.

Unknown, you sure of using "schadenfreude" in this context? It means;

pleasure derived by someone from another person's misfortune.
"a business that thrives on schadenfreude"

You are accusing people of being glad from some child's misfortune?

Also, you can call it "stereotype threat" but the majority of students in this position are students of color. Should we not acknowledge that?

How would you want to think of the situation differently? I wrote this post in order to find out what others think.
Jet City mom said…
I’m white.
My husband is also white.
I did not graduate from high school, he barely did.
When we asked his family for perhaps savings bonds for the kids, instead of $200 talking bears, during a several year period when we had to utilize the food bank, they scornfully asked us if we expected our children to attend college.
Yes, yes we did.

We are very blue collar, and have really struggled, but both our kids have college degrees and are working in their fields.
They also are both new homeowners.
Not in Seattle, but in the northwest.
I attribute this not only to my stubbornness and willingness to be in the school everyday if needed ( and sometimes it was, as my daughter with an IEP was not receiving services), but to the support I found from other parents, who were from families that had place education first for generations.
That made a huge difference in me being able to support my kids without the support of my own family.
I am not taking away from the even greater difficulties that POC face- however, parents can still be their own worst enemy when they do not encourage their children to take on a challenge, and who steer them away from advanced courses on the assumption they would be the only poc in the class.
Socio economic diversity can ease that change in perspective.
@Jet City Mom you said "I am not taking away from the even greater difficulties that POC face-- however, parents can still be their own worst enemy when they do not encourage their children to take on a challenge, and who steer them away from advanced courses on the assumption they would be the only poc in the class.
Socio economic diversity can ease that change in perspective."

I would argue that in a sense you are taking away from the additional difficulties people of color face because you rolled right into blaming parents and assuming everything will be better if they're willing to sacrifice their child's livelihood in the name of what? I am super happy your kids are successful, however it is clear you don't quite understand what it takes to navigate as a person of color each day and why many parents of color (particularly black parents) don't want their kid to be the only children of color in the classroom. We need to come in numbers, else our children are going to suffer. It's been that was since I was a kid (I'm 62) and it's that way for my own four children. My son tested into what was then APP and we opted not to send him to Lowell because he would be away from his siblings and people who looked like him. He's now a confident young black man majoring in Computer Science major at UW and finishing up his first internship. He was grounded in his blackness and not forced to discover himself in the midst of racism.

What you said reminds me of when my oldest was in preschool and we parents shared our kindergarten final list of schools. We chose TT Minor. The white families were oh so excited about the possibility of my black child attending the 90%+ white school, but only one parent even bothered to come see TT Minor and confessed she couldn't see her white child being the "only" there.

There is a lot of deep seated racism (internalized and external) that shapes who we are as people of color. It's not as simple as stop being our "own worst enemy".
Unknown said…

I'm positive about my use of "schadenfreude." There's a voyeurism that a lot of white allies exhibit towards students of color, and that tendency often manifests as endlessly droning on about poor kids off color, how bad everything is for them, etc. These white saviors take pleasure in gawking, and then they compete to be the wokest white person in the room.

Constantly pathologizing people of color leads to microaggressions, stereotypes, this belief gap.

I don't know how we need to think differently-- only that we need to do so.

As a student and a teacher, I have watched legions of white saviors fail with students of color, and I'm increasingly convinced that it's this "Dangerous Minds" fantasy, schadenfreude, white Ally axis that is the biggest impediment in SPS.

In neighboring districts where I've taught, including a diverse South Sound district, we talked about pedagogy and methods, not politics.

SP, what does " poor kids off color" mean? I'm not trying to be dense but I don't understand what you are saying.

I think we will be having a long - probably difficult - conversation about white people and wokeness but also about not every group thinking in lockstep. And, that no one person of color can speak for everyone in that group.

But yes,helping people along with the thinking, telling them when they are off-course, would really help. But telling them, not hitting them over the head with a baseball bat.

But tell us more about what methods you have seen elsewhere that might work.
Anonymous said…
In discussing the achievement or opportunity gap, we cannot just look at race. Leading researchers in this area are looking at income and opportunity. Some students of color such as middle class and wealthy Asians and East Indians as one example, often outperform all economic classes of whites on standardized testing.

In addition, leading researchers in the subject of the achievement or opportunity gap such as Stanford researcher Sean Reardon have found that while the black-white achievement gap has significantly narrowed over 30 years, the income achievement gap between poor and rich students have widened significantly by 40%. Reardon also found the gap in reading and math test scores between children in families with low and high incomes was twice as large as the gap between white and black students, for example.Fifty years ago, in contrast, the black-white gap was one and a half to two times as large as the
income gap. Income inequality is clearly affecting all races in the country and needs to be understood in that socioeconomic context. There is a very large gap between middle and upper income students as well.

2. https://www.childtrends.org/the-other-achievement-gap-poverty-and-academic-success
3. https://www.educationnext.org/achievement-gap-fails-close-half-century-testing-shows-persistent-divide/

The city of Seattle or the Eastside also is not representative of the rest of the county in terms of demographics. Many, but not all, of the whites and Asians in Seattle and surrounding areas tend to be much more educated and affluent than other areas of the country.

Anonymous said…
For a broader understanding of the subject, I also suggest readers look at this article from Harvard on the subject entitled the "Other Achievement Gap" which discusses the achievement gap between Asian and other students, including White students of all socioeconomic backgrounds.

"On average, Asian American students obtain higher grades, perform better on standardized tests, and are more likely to finish high school and attend elite colleges than their peers of all other racial backgrounds, regardless of socioeconomic status."

"But the white/Asian American achievement gap is either ignored or misconstrued. “When Asian American students outperform other groups, researchers often begin to pathologize it,” notes Pittinsky, a professor Stony Brook University and lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “‘These poor Asian kids, look at the damage being caused by their parents and their achievement,’ they think.”


Jane, thank you for those insights. I'll be reading those articles.
suep. said…
@Jane, Thanks for mentioning the work of Stanford researcher Sean Reardon. I reached out to him after his study came out back in 2016 on black-white student achievement gaps, which the Seattle Times wrote about, and has been oft cited. As a school board director, I wanted to better understand the causes of such gaps, and what was in the scope of school districts such as Seattle in addressing them.

Here's an excerpt from his reply to me:

"In our paper (https://cepa.stanford.edu/content/geography-racialethnic-test-score-gaps) we show that the two most important predictors of achievement gaps are 1) the income or socioeconomic gap between white and black families; and 2) the extent of segregation (the extent to which black students attend higher poverty schools than white students). The first is not in the control of school districts, but the second may be (though it may be constrained by residential segregation)."

Regarding Seattle in particular, he said:

"Our data show that Seattle has the 24th largest white-black achievement gap among the roughly 2500 school districts in the US with sufficient numbers of white and black students to compute achievement gaps. Its achievement gap is 5th or 6th largest among the largest districts in the US (those with 40,000 or so students or more). To quantify it, the gap is about 3.7 grade levels difference between the average white and black students (white students in Seattle score on average about 2.2 grade levels about the national average for their grade; black students score on average about 1.5 grade levels below the national average). Nationally, the average white-black gap is about 2.0-2.2 grade levels.

These figures are not in any of our published reports, but are available in the large, publicly available data we’ve posted online at http://seda.stanford.edu. I think a reporter from the Seattle Times downloaded our data and looked at the gaps for the 200 largest districts – that’s where that statistic comes from."
Anonymous said…
@SueP thank you for that background data. I've heard that Seattle's white/black achievement gap is a result of the white students having much higher scores than other cities, while the black scores are similar to other cities. Is that true?

If so, that achievement gap represents world-wide migration by high-tech workers, who overwhelmingly are white and Asian, to Seattle instead of the fault of the school system.

Anonymous said…
Research by Reardon is interesting. His data illustrates a trend that the black-white achievement gap has actually been shrinking and shrunk quite alot in the past 30-50 years. It might be larger between blacks & whites in Seattle a city with lots of highly educated wealthy whites & Asians, and where there are many lower income blacks but that is not the case in the US more broadly.

The black-white gap was far wider 50 years ago than today, while the gap between the wealthy- poor and middle class achievement gap has been growing. His research discusses how wealthier students in the past tended to have somewhat more similar experiences, as students of middle class as well as lower economic backgrounds. However today parents of wealthier students are giving their children many more advantages in experiences, extracurriculars and other resources.

We also need to look at students as individuals and not make any assumptions based upon their race. Races are made up of individuals who have different backgrounds and experiences.

In addition, we cannot just look at income as the recent research looking at the growing achievement gap between Asian students and whites and students of other backgrounds illustrate. In many cases Asian students of all economic backgrounds tend to outperform whites of all economic backgrounds. This Asian-White plus all other races gap is also growing which is very interesting as well. This research attributes student success to other factors such as familial attitudes toward education, hard work, belief systems etc.

Another article on the subject https://www.kappanonline.org/pittinsky-backtalk-learning-achievement-gap/

Unknown said…
Hi Melissa,

"Poor kids off color" was a simple typo due to the tiny interface on a phone screen.

As for what methods might work, and what I've seen in other districts:

In my old south sound district, we had real, functioning PLC's that look at actual student work, student data, student outcomes, instead of teachers grandstanding about their wokeness, carrying on about the school-to-prison pipeline, mass incarceration, Trump, and other things that we can't control and/or are outside of our professional domain. We also implemented strategies like AVID and AP support classes taught by AP teachers who could give the kids extra support--but more importantly: just extra time in the day to read and write.

Race wasn't our focus; student needs and student performance was. We didn't treat students as members of groups; we treated them like individuals. Sure, we were aware of how different groups--African-Americans, Pacific Islanders, Ukrainians, Latinos, Kenyans, Somalis--access and interact with the educational system, but in the end, it was: "What works for Kid X" and "How do we get Kid Y to improve her ability to cite information?"

And we had common expectations, policies, standards, and strategies. Our administrators held us to high standards and expected us to work together.

Our district was in charge instead of our union.

southend said…
Thank you, SP. So tired of all the virtue signaling and not actually focusing on what individual kids need. It's a massive waste of time and resources and benefits no one but the wanna be white saviors.
Yes to cultural competency, yes to anti bias training, yes to Ethnic Studies, and yes to seeing kids as individuals and having high expectations for all kids and the supports in place to reach them.
Anonymous said…
Thank you for speaking up, Ms. Dziko. I'm sorry these people are ignoring your lived experience and think they know your life better than you do.


Popular posts from this blog

Tuesday Open Thread

Seattle Public Schools and Their Principals

COVID Issues Heating up for Seattle Public Schools