Bridging the Achievement Gap—or Not

Bridging the Achievement Gap—or Not

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This week on YO!Radio we take a look at the education achievement gap, where people are looking to fix an inequality that has left many young folks with the short end of the stick. Donny Lumpkins is a content producer and Malcolm Marshall is a senior editor at YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia.


I remember when progress stopped for me. It was in the fourth grade. I remember feeling like I had missed something the other kids understood.

Math was a foreign language, with too many nuances for me to ever fully grasp it. The problems on the page may as well have been Chinese characters. I witnessed the gap between me and my classmates grow larger and larger as the year progressed.

I dreaded going to school. It was hell watching my classmates grasp information and excel, even as I struggled to understand things that came easily to them. I got discouraged and taught myself how to stop caring about what happened in school. Sometimes, I wouldn’t go to school at all.

Now I’m 23 and I think back on that year. I wonder what I could have done to change things for myself. But is that the job of a fourth-grader?

A recent study called, “The black/white achievement gap: when progress stopped,” says more than 60 percent of black high school dropouts born since the mid-1960s go to prison. And in 2003-’04, for every 100 bachelor's degrees conferred on black men, 200 were conferred on black women."

Bridging the gap has become a life’s work for many young adults and they have methods that could be applied on a national scale that are proven to work.

Fluke Fluker, teacher and founder of The Village Nation, is one of those people. When he and other teachers at Cleveland High in Los Angeles started this program, the API test results of black boys were below those of English-as-a-second-language learners, and now they are soaring. The numbers jumped 53 percent in the first year, proving improvement isn’t impossible, it just takes a new approach.

“They say it takes a village to raise a child, but it took the cries of children to raise us to do what we were supposed to be doing in the first place -- and that is to recognize and help our children.”

Fluker says his original reason for the program was to teach kids how to make better choices. A lot of the successes he himself has had has been a byproduct of that.

“I’m sure we have all heard the phrase, Know thyself. Well, so many of our kids, they don’t know themselves,” Fluker said. “They are left vulnerable to the media, and (vulnerable to) society that plants into their minds who they are and what they are. And whenever that happens, they are going to be limited in reaching their true potential.”

Fluker says he asks the boys he works with for permission to tell them the truth. He says it’s unusual “…but effective. Most kids have never had an adult ask them permission for anything.” He said many kids, by the time they reach high school age, are very cynical about adults because adults have not told them the truth. Adults lie to them and “water things down” under the pretence that’s it’s for their own benefit.

“Part of the truth is understanding what you have contributed to your situation as well as recognizing how others have played you and manipulated you. There’s a lot being said about (why) schools and school districts (are) not working. I don’t really know if they’re not working. They might be working perfectly fine, (just) maybe not for us.”

Dr. Chris Harrison was raised by a single mother and grew up in east Oakland. The people he had looked up to were the people on the streets. Now, he has a doctorate in education from Mills College. He and his wife, Dr. Neka Harrison, run an educational consulting firm called Inward Journeys Consulting.

“We founded it in 2001, and we founded it during the time when “no child left behind” was on the eve of being rolled out in the country. We saw that changes were about to roll out, even though they weren’t quite clear on how these changes were going to play out in the schools, in the nation, and in the communities.”

Dr. Harrison says he wanted to get parents ready. So they partnered with schools and families and community based organizations to improve the quality of K-12 education.

“We do that by way of providing teachers professional development, consultations to school leaders and administrators, and we publish books and research and other educational products like mp3 downloads,” he said.

Dr. Harrison thinks before the achievement gap can be closed its definition should be changed.

“The way that the gap is defined today is a gap between blacks and whites, or (between) Latinos and whites. We actually disagree with that definition. There’s a word called ethnocentrism, and that means when you take one cultural group and use it at a standard to judge another. And in the field of social science, we know that’s deplorable. The late great Dr. Alas Healya redefined the achievement gap. He said the achievement gap is a gap between a student’s current performance and what we deem to be academic excellence.”

He says if you define the gap that way the challenge rests on the teachers to help the students to move their performance up to where they will reach their highest. And that’s our greatest challenge.

Dr. Harrison says young black men find themselves facing an identity crises when confronted with the lure of “ pop or hip hop culture” -- what he calls the dominant culture of the day. “Now the excitement about education is competing with this other way of life they have found themselves introduced to.”

He says young boys are trying to decide what kind of person they will be and how they are going to make their decisions, who they are going to associate with, who they are going to call a friend and who they are not.

“If they (the educators) have not prioritized how to help that child make it through those years and make up their mind about who they are becoming and how they are going to live their lives. Then all the other factors come into play and then education becomes down played.”

My experience in school and that of other young black men in this country is disturbing and all too familiar. More and more of us fall through the cracks, only to land in the wide net of the prison system.

Without some real change soon, the future seems grim for me and my peers.