This post is a long time coming. A term that comes up a lot in my Diversity in Higher Ed class is "deficit thinking." Deficit-minded thinking attributes blame to those experiencing the problems. The term is often used in our class discussions in reference to differential treatment, whether by race, gender, class, religious/faith practice, etc. For the purposes of this blog, let's say an English learner student is having a hard time comprehending a lesson. This frame of mind would result in comments such as, "this kid isn't working hard enough," or "it's not a value for that student/family/racial group."
I feel that deficit thinking is best contrasted by equity minded thinking, which examines institutional or structural issues that could attribute to the shortfalls. Equity minded thinking might point to teacher bias, faulty curriculum or insufficient resources at the school for English learners.
With this in mind, I try not to use the term "achievement gap," opting for "opportunity gap" instead. Inequality of achievement looks past the structures that create inherent inequality in the first place: inequalities in wealth, differences in schools, parents educational attainment, social and cultural capital. These are social realities that make it difficult for underserved students to achieve at the same level as their better-resourced counterparts. I know people sometimes point to the instances where people have "pulled themselves up from their bootstraps" in order to dash the image of inequality. The truth remains though - you can't pull yourself up from the bootstraps without boots (wish I had a citation for that quote, it ain't mine). You just can't have equality of opportunity without equality of condition.
[Disclaimer: I'm going to sound really cynical here] I've joked (kind of) with friends about my plan to provide equity (crap...equality versus equity is a whole new post) of opportunities. Bear in mind, this is a plan that is not thought out and isn't really a plan. So here goes: hold back privileged students and provide little to no resources to them. For those who are still reading, my reasoning goes like this: we need to provide the same resources for all students but if we do so all students are only moving at the same pace. The thing is, the starting point wasn't the same. Inequalities would still exist, but I guess it's nice that they also won't grow. SCORE!
Or maybe not. The truth is that we (teachers, administrators, policymakers, parents, allies) need to find a way to provide resources to communities in need that are above and beyond what privileged students receive now. Students who are already good can keep their good schools but we need to have EXEMPLARY schools (you teachers like that huh? I know my English teachers used that word a lot, I think it means "good"). This needs to happen, and will probably happen before any critical mass even mentions something like what I proposed without breaking into laughter or calling me out to be a commie. I've come across amazing people who work at various levels of education. I'm encouraged to know that people have the goal of eliminating inequity.
In posting this though, I want to pose these questions - can we eliminate this gap by only focusing on one side of the gap? Do my ideas of social redistribution have merit? (Hell, even I'm not sure on this) Do they scare you? (They should) Do I use too many parenthetical statements? (Yes I do). What makes you confident that there will be change?