The missing link in the racial achievement gap: measuring racism in White people in schools, administrations, and teachers.

When discussing the racial achievement gap in schools, the tools we use are extremely one-sided, with the onus being the “problem” is with the Black folks. The most popular assumption and assertion currently made by researchers is “the racial achievement gap is a cause of the complication due to Black parents and students and being low-income.”

Which leads to number of “interventions” aimed at Black students, parents, and their environment. But there is a huge, ginormous, missing factor that is used to measure both racial achievement gap AND to create “interventions” to alleviate the gap.

THERE IS CURRENTLY NO MEASURING OF RACISM OF TEACHERS, STAFF, ADMINISTRATORS, AND POLICIES and the effects of that racism on the academic achievement gap.

WIth all due respect, I am calling bullshit.

And, I am so excited that I think I finally found a way to prove the bullshit “achievement gap is because of low-income” theory is not only the wrong tool, but it is also a way of letting White people off with no accountability or personal actions required of them.

Before I get into my “racism measuring tool, (which I am totally cool being called the Dawson Measuring Tool. Too much, too soon? )” I want to clearly lay out my assertions, methodology, and theory. At the end of this piece, I will also include the tools for actual researchers to further my theory and find exact numbers.

Current popular theory: The racial achievement gap is due to Black people being low-income and in poverty, which creates additional factors that impact academic success in Black students. If we eliminate, or minimize, the factors due to poverty, then we can improve the racial achievement gap.

My theory: Racism specifically white people and white run public education institutions, are a significant factor in the racial achievement gap. Thus, racism specifically, needs to be included in all studies regarding the racial achievement gap. Racism, of individuals and institutions in public schools, plays a significant role in the racial achievement gap.

My hypothesis: Income or poverty is not an adequate explanation for racial achievement gap.

My methodology (a quasi study:) is that currently, the data used for the racial achievement gap does not segregate race from class. More pointedly, we can not assume that all Black kids are low-income. We need to create a new subset of student that more accurately give us a picture of how Black students are performing academically. I am calling this subset, Middle Class Black Students (MCBS).

If we segregate data by race AND class (separating non low-income Black students from low-income Black students) and there IS STILL AN ACHIEVEMENT GAP, the racial achievement gap can’t be explained by poverty; we need to take serious racism in schools and create interventions and solutions targeted at alleviating racism.

There are plenty of examples that demonstrate this subset (MCBS) have the ability to academically excel.

However, my speculative assumption is where there Black student academic excelling, there are higher numbers of Black teachers and administration and/or schools intentional about identifying and alleviating racism with White staff. This date further supports my argument that racism, by White staff/teachers/policies and institutions, is part of the problem of the racial achievement gap.

I am defining racism using Dr. Nicki Lisa Cole’s definition:

Racism refers to a variety of practices, beliefs, social relations, and phenomena that work to reproduce a racial hierarchy and social structure that yield superiority power and privilege for some and discrimination and oppression for others. It can take several forms, including representational, ideological, discursive, interactional, institutional, structural, and systemic.

Racism exists when ideas and assumptions about racial categories are used to justify and reproduce a racial hierarchy and racially structured society that unjustly limits access to resources, rights, and privilege on the basis of race.

Based on this definition, I will give an examplesof racism, both individually and institutionally, in Oak Park District 97 (Oak Park, IL), and I would assume other districts with similar demographics.

Uncomfortable truth about White liberal racism:

It is very hard to find ANY White person who will admit to being racist or being an active participant in racist policies that disenfranchise and discriminate against Black people. Even President Trump, with all the factual proof supporting his racism, refuses to accept the label, “racist.” Luckily, his racist supporters are a little more forthcoming with the explicit racism, and he is proudly placing them in administrative positions and supporting their views.

However, in reality, most racism isn’t as simple as people burning crosses and calling Black people niggers. Liberal White racism, in particular, is especially difficult to name publically. Now, there is no doubt among people of color, Blacks in particular, that there is liberal white racism. The gap and problem I want to highlight here, is there aren’t many liberal white people who will admit that they are racist and are participating in racist actions. This problem is exasperated by the fact that most NPO/NGO/ Public instutions are overwhelmingly ran, managed, and financed by White liberals, who have done little to no intensive anti-racism reflections that lead to policy changes.

This issue is huge and includes so many different groups. I am choosing to highlight a very small sample and a specific institution, Oak Park District 97 (Oak Park, IL) elementary schools. I am choosing Oak Park because it is in my community and I have done some research and work on their racial achievement gap.

Oak Park, Illinois, is one of those, self-identified “liberal enclaves.” Diversity, in theory, is important. Black Lives Matter signs, Rainbow flags, and Dump Trump signs can be seen on houses throughout the village. However, like many other self-identified liberal enclaves, “Evanston, IL; Madison, WI; Portland,OR; Seattle, WA to name a few), there are factual incidents of racism by these liberal white people to the black community.

Which, most Black people already know, having a Black lives Matter sign, does not make you a non-racist. The only way to be non-racist is to actually do non-racist stuff. And to do, non-racist stuff, you have to clearly know what is racist and when you are participating in racist action with actions based in research. (see racism defintion)

I want to also explicitly state that I am talking about Black versus White racism. I understand that there are many different diverse races/ethnic groups that face institutional and individual racism, however, I feel unqualified to comment on the experiences on those forms of racism (ex: white verses hispanic) because that is not my experience or an area I feel comfortable commenting on because of my lack of cultural competency with those communities.

My hypothesis is that the racial achievement gap in Oak Park District 97 to middle class black students (and I suspect low-income Black students as well) is because of racism. Black students are falling behind the achievement gap, not simply because of income, but because of the racism by the teachers, staff, administration, and policies.

It is important to me, to use the word, racism, because that is what it is. In order for us to truly eradicate racism, we need to know it, we need to speak it, we need to call it when we see it, and we need to work on fixing it. White fragility (insert link) makes it difficult to discuss solutions to racism because of White people’s inability to name and identify their personal racism.

Like other white liberal communities, In the Oak Park School District 97, has been for a significant time trying addressing the racial achievement gap. However, most of their focus“elevating the racial achievement gap” work, has been processing workshop, focus groups, and “diversity pods” that allow residents (mostly white liberal people) feelings of racism and the administrations and communities feelings about in the schools and the racial achievement gap makes people feel very angry, frustrated, and wanting a change.

However, the fact remains, the processing of those uncomfortable feelingsabout racism in Oak Park schools, has done absolutely nothing to change the facts. Like many school districts in America, Oak Park district 97 is racist. And, I think I have figured a way to measure that in data using MCBS.

Again, my assertion is that income alone, is not a significant explanation to measure racial achievement. There has to be tools that measure racism in schools and staff/teachers. Being a non-racist, isn’t something that a person can just declare. Being non-racist requires intensive study of institutional, historic, systemic racism and white privilege, and being able to identify personal (implicit and explicit) racial biases.

My hypothesis is that if you separate school data by race and class, and create a subset of students of (MCBS), the racial achievement gap is still present in public schools. Based off the Illinois Report Cards, I can make a speculative analysis that proves my point.

Looking at every elementary school in Oak Park District 97, I tried to identify MCBS. Admittedly, my sample is not accurate and probably significantly lower than actual number. BUT, because people talk about the racial achievement being correlated/causation being income; I assumed that EVERY CHILD IN OAK PARK THAT IS LOW INCOME IS BLACK. I then identified the number of Black students subtracted the entire amount of low income students and created a very flawed, but important start to a subset of students, MCBS.

Looking at the racial achievement gap, and using the MCBS results, when applicable the achievement gap still existed. Unfortunately, the numbers don’t always add up equally, but there are two examples: Holmes and Hatch. Using the data to segregate MCBS, it highly suggest, that the racial achievement gap still exists. Again, I can only use the data provided and currently, the data does NOT identify race of low-income students.

However, even if every Black child in the district were low-income, there would still be a racial achievement gap. This means, to me, that we need to look at racism in schools and with teachers and create policies that address this racism.

Examples of Oak Park DIstrict 97 racism are:

  • institutional racism: The fact are that, on average, Black students are 40 points behind White students in nearly every subject in every grade at every school, in Oak Park District 97. (https://illinoisreportcard.com/District.aspx?districtId=06016097002)
  • Policy racism: The amount of Black teachers in school district: (there is scientific proof that more black teachers increase black students scores) https://www.brookings.edu/research/the-importance-of-a-diverse-teaching-force/ 2) https://theundefeated.com/features/the-campaign-for-black-male-achievement-is-changing-the-lives-of-black-men-and-boys/
  • Individual race: The high discipline rates of black versus white students : They need to identify racial biases, both implicit and explicit, that can help to develop strategies to stop the racism current policies that over discipline Black students because of race.
  • Individual and policy racism: The academic tracking which discriminates against Black children who qualify for accelerated learning program. (by being intentional about racism in individuals, the current policy of identifying “gifted/talented” students by teachers recommendations would be alleviated or at least recognized.
  • Institutional/policy racism: The workplace racism, that silences staff and teachers of color when they highlight racism within the schools.
  • Individual racism: The lack of self-awareness, or any attempt, to acknowledge racism; both overt and covert, known and unknown, by mandating cultural competency and racial biases examinations of teachers, staff, and administrators.

Now feelings and discussions about racism and the racial achievement gap are very important. However, when it comes to education, Black parents and Black Students deserve more than processing of individuals feelings about racism and the school. Black parents and Black students deserve results. Black parents deserve action plans that address racism, and interventions that address racism with White folks. I argue that there is no need for another conference/workshop/think group, to dissect the “racial achievement problem” as it pertains to Black people; to me, the solution is clear: we need to study/workshop/think group create policies about White people that will get rid of institutionalized and systemic racism.

It’s time to get serious about undoing the hard work of racism in White people and white institutions.

Leave a Reply