read

References

Citekey: @Ladson-Billings2006-um

Ladson-Billings, G. (2006). From the achievement gap to the education debt: Understanding achievement in U.S. schools. Educational Researcher, 35(7), 3–12.

Notes

This is a powerful piece illuminating the issue with the achievement gap – or, for a better phrase, education debt – in the US. By tracing down the roots of the education debt, it paints a wholer picture of the problem, esp. for a foreigner like myself who does not share the collective memories mentioned in the paper. As I commented below,

This is a powerful analogy that transforms how we might look at the problem. The words themselves - gap vs. debt - involve different ways of thinking about the issue. While gap focuses on the status quo, debt looks backwards into the history and embodies more urgency of paying it back.

While there is no way to start again from scratch, Ladson-Billings offers some insights for educational researchers to ponder on:

Where could we go to begin from the ground up to build the kind of education system that would aggressively address the debt? … It would have to be a place where our Institutional Review Board and human subject concerns would not keep us from proposing aggressive and cutting-edge research. It would have to be a place where people were so desperate for the expertise of education researchers that we could conduct multiple projects using multiple approaches. It would be a place so hungry for solutions that it would not matter if some projects were quantitative and others were qualitative. It would not matter if some were large-scale and some were small-scale. It would not matter if some paradigms were psychological, some were social, some were economic, and some were cultural. The only thing that would matter in an environment like this would be that education researchers were bringing their expertise to bear on education problems that spoke to pressing concerns of the public. I wonder where we might find such a place?

While I have previously aligned my research with the more ‘basic’ research into learning, no one living in this country, or this world, or no one researching and practicing education, could become immune to the debt. It is important to keep these thoughts on/in one’s ‘moral compass’ and to take actions in whatever possible manner.

Highlights

This article argues that a focus on the gap is mis- placed. Instead, we need to look at the “education debt” that has accumulated over time. This debt comprises historical, economic, sociopolitical, and moral components. The author draws an analogy with the concept of national debt—which she contrasts with that of a national budget deficit—to argue the significance of the education debt. (p. 1)

We seem to study them but rarely provide the kind of remedies that help them to solve their problems. (p. 1)

However, because education is an applied field, a field that local states manage and declare must be available to the entire public, most of the questions that education researchers ask need to address the significant questions that challenge and con- found the public: (p. 1)

The freedom to pursue ‘basic research’. Also attending to problems of interest to the pubic. (p. 1)

I am concerned about the meaning of our work for the larger public—for real students, teachers, administrators, parents, policymakers, and communities in real school settings. (p. 1)

Kenneth B. Clark, who, in the 1950s, was one of the first social scientists to bring research to the public in a meaningful way. His work with his wife and colleague Mamie formed the basis for the landmark Brown v. Board of Education (1954) case that reversed legal segregation in public schools and other public accommoda- tions. (p. 1)

The Prevalence of the Achievement Gap (p. 1)

According to the National Governors’ Association, the achievement gap is “a matter of race and class. (p. 1)

In the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress results, the gap between Black and Latina/o fourth graders and their White counterparts in reading scaled scores was more than 26 points. In fourth-grade mathematics the gap was more than 20 points (Education Commission of the States, 2005). (p. 2)

Down the Rabbit-Hole (p. 2)

it also exists when we compare dropout rates and relative numbers of students who take advanced placement examinations; enroll in honors, advanced placement, and “gifted” classes; and are admit- ted to colleges and graduate and professional programs. (p. 2)

Fortunately, I traveled with my trusty copy of Lakoff and Johnson’s (1980) Metaphors We Live By as a way to make sense of my sojourn there. (p. 2)

Scholars have offered a variety of explanations for the existence of the gap. (p. 2)

In the 1960s, scholars identified cultural deficit theories (p. 2)

This once mainstream viewpoint sounds scary nowadays, but may still exist in every corner of the American society, or may still be the dominant view in some other societies around the world. (p. 2)

National Debt Versus National Deficit (p. 2)

Social psychologist Claude Steele (1999) argues that a “stereo- type threat” contributes to the gap. (p. 2)

Most fiscal conservatives warn against deficit budgets and urge the government to decrease spending to balance the budget. (p. 2)

This level of debt means that the United States pays about $132,844,701,219.88 in interest each year. This makes our debt interest the third-largest expenditure in the federal budget after defense and combined entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare (Christensen, 2004). (p. 2)

I want to argue that this all-out focus on the “Achievement Gap” moves us toward short-term solutions that are unlikely to address the long-term underlying problem. (p. 2)

Even in those years when the United States has had a balanced budget, that is, no deficits, the national debt continued to grow. (p. 3)

The Debt and Education Disparity (p. 3)

Looking at the gap from year to year is a misleading exer- cise. (p. 3)

Inconsistency of different administrations is hurting. (p. 3)

We do not have good answers as to why the gap narrows or widens. Some research suggests that even the combina- tion of socioeconomic and family conditions, youth culture and stu- dent behaviors, and schooling conditions and practices do not fully explain changes in the achievement gap (Lee). (p. 3)

I am arguing that our focus on the achievement gap is akin to a focus on the budget deficit, but what is actually happening to African American and Latina/o students is really more like the national debt. We do not have an achievement gap; we have an education debt. (p. 3)

This is a powerful analogy that transforms how we might look at the problem. The words themselves - gap vs. debt - involve different ways of thinking about the issue. While gap focuses on the status quo, debt looks backwards into the history and embodies more urgency of paying it back. (p. 3)

I am arguing that the historical, economic, sociopolitical, and moral decisions and policies that characterize our society have created an education debt. (p. 3)

The education debt is the foregone schooling resources that we could have (should have) been investing in (primarily) low income kids, which deficit leads to a variety of social problems (e.g. crime, low productivity, low wages, low labor force participation) that require on-going public investment. (p. 3)

The Historical Debt (p. 3)

Scholars in the history of education, such as James Anderson (1989), Michael Fultz (1995), and David Tyack (2004), have doc- umented the legacy of educational inequities in the Unites States. Those inequities initially were formed around race, class, and gen- der. Gradually, some of the inequities began to recede, but clearly they persist in the realm of race. (p. 3)

Wolfe and Haveman (2001) entitled Accounting for the Social and Non-Market Benefits of Education, which catalogues a series of what they term “non-market effects of schooling.” The authors contend that “the literature on the intergenerational effects of education is generally neglected in assessing the full impact of education.” (p. 3)

Indeed, Black students in the South did not experience universal secondary schooling until 1968 (Anderson, 2002). Why, then, would we not expect there to be an achieve- ment gap? (p. 3)

Yea, that’s a debt. (p. 3)

The history of American Indian education is equally egregious. (p. 3)

This strategy of deliberate and forced assimilation created a group of people, according to Pulitzer Prize writer N. Scott Momaday, who belonged nowhere (Lesiak, 1991). The assimilated Indian could not fit comfortably into reservation life or the stratified mainstream. (p. 3)

Latina/o students also experienced huge disparities in their education. (p. 4)

The Economic Debt (p. 4)

The economics of the education debt are sober- ing. The funding disparities that currently exist between schools serving White students and those serving students of color are not recent phenomena. (p. 4)

the funding disparities between urban schools and their suburban counterparts (p. 4)

A brief perusal of some of the history of public schooling in the United States documents the way that we have accumulated an education debt over time. (p. 4)

This pattern of inequitable funding has occurred over centuries. For many of these popula- tions, schooling was nonexistent during the early history of the nation; and, clearly, Whites were not prepared to invest their fis- cal resources in these strange “others.” (p. 4)

Another important part of the economic component of the education debt is the earning ratios related to years of schooling. The empirical data suggest that more schooling is associated with higher earnings (p. 4)

According to economists Joseph Altonji and Ulrech Doraszelski (2005), The wealth gap between whites and blacks in the United States is much larger than the gap in earnings. (p. 4)

This is because wealth is a source of political and social power, influences access to capital for new businesses, and provides insurance against fluctuations in labor market income. It affects the quality of housing, neighborhoods, and schools a family has access to as well as the ability to finance higher education. The fact that friendships and family ties tend to be within racial groups amplifies the effect of the wealth gap on the financial, social, and political resources available to blacks relative to whites. (p. 5)

The closest example that we have of such a dramatic policy move is that of affirmative action. Rather than wait for students of color to meet predetermined standards, the society decided to recognize that historically denied groups should be given a preference in admission to schools and colleges. Ultimately, the major beneficia- ries of this policy were White women. (p. 5)

the wealth disparity better reflects the education debt (p. 5)

The Sociopolitical Debt (p. 5)

Black, Latina/o, and Native communities had little or no access to the franchise, so they had no true legislative representation. (p. 5)

I am quite pissed by the exclusion of Asian in the discussion. (p. 5)

As a result of the sociopolitical component of the education debt, families of color have regularly been excluded from the decision- making mechanisms that should ensure that their children receive quality education. (p. 5)

The parent–teacher organizations, school site councils, and other possibilities for democratic participation have not been available for many of these families. (p. 5)

African American, Latina/o, Native Amer- ican, and Asian American parents have often advocated for improve- ments in schooling, but their advocacy often has been muted and marginalized. (p. 5)

Indeed, a major aspect of the modern civil rights movement was the quest for quality schooling. (p. 5)

but the real danger of our discussions about morality is that they reside solely in the realm of the individual. We want people to take personal responsibility for their behavior, personal responsibility for their health care, personal responsibility for their welfare, and personal responsibility for their education. However, in democratic nations, that personal responsibility must be coupled with social responsibility. (p. 6)

The Moral Debt (p. 6)

What I did find in the litera- ture was the concept of “moral panics” (Cohen, 1972; Goode & Ben-Yehuda, 1994a, 1994b; Hall, Critcher, Jefferson, Clarke, & Roberts, 1978) that was popularized in British sociology. People in moral panics attempt to describe other people, groups of indi- viduals, or events that become defined as threats throughout a society. However, in such a panic the magnitude of the supposed threat overshadows the real threat posed. (p. 6)

Isn’t the recent rhetoric around Muslims an example of moral panics? (p. 6)

In contrast, a moral debt reflects the disparity between what we know is right and what we actually do. (p. 6)

This links to what Darling-Hammond describes about grade retention to boost the graduation rate and teaching for tests. (p. 6)

Each of the groups that labored in the Hawaiian plantations—the Native Hawaii- ans, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Filipinos, the Koreans, the Por- tuguese, the Puerto Ricans, and the Blacks—drove a sugar economy that sated a worldwide sweet tooth (Wilcox, 1998). (p. 6)

But how do we recognize the moral debt that we owe to entire groups of people? How do we calculate such a debt? (p. 6)

And perhaps our largest moral debt is to the indigenous peo- ples whose presence was all but eradicated from the nation. (p. 6)

David Gill (2000) asserts, in his book Being Good, that “we are living today in an ethical wilderness—a wild, untamed, unpre- dictable landscape” (p. 11). (p. 6)

The Value of Understanding the Debt in Relation to Past Research Findings (p. 7)

Much of our scholarly effort has gone into looking at educational inequality and how we might mitigate it. Despite how hard we try, there are two interventions that have never received full and sustained hypothesis testing—school desegregation and funding equity. (p. 7)

Taken together, the historic, economic, sociopolitical, and moral debt that we have amassed toward Black, Brown, Yellow, and Red children seems insurmountable, and attempts at address- ing it seem futile. Indeed, it appears like a task for Sisyphus. But as legal scholar Derrick Bell (1994) indicated, just because some- thing is impossible does not mean it is not worth doing. (p. 7)

Why We Must Address the Debt (p. 7)

On the face of it, we must address it because it is the equitable and just thing to do. (p. 7)

According to Frankenberg, Lee, and Orfield (2003) and Orfield and Lee (2004), America’s public schools are more than a decade into a process of resegregation. (p. 7)

Most of us live in the world of the pragmatic and practical. So we must address the education debt because it has implications for the kinds of lives we can live and the kind of education the soci- ety can expect for most of its children. I want to suggest that there are three primary reasons for addressing the debt—(a) the impact the debt has on present education progress, (b) the value of under- standing the debt in relation to past education research findings, and (c) the potential for forging a better educational future. (p. 7)

The funding equity problem, as I illustrated earlier in this dis- cussion, also has been intractable. (p. 7)

The Impact of the Debt on Present Education Progress (p. 7)

Asian Americans, who are 3.7% of the adult population, make up 5% of wealthy investors (p. 7)

When did most of them arrive in the US? Where did their wealth come from? How does this representation maps onto different sorts of ‘debts’ described above (esp. sociopolitical debt)? It needs to be unpacked. (p. 7)

Bryk and Schneider (2002) identified “relational trust” as a key component in school reform. I argue that the magnitude of the education debt erodes that trust and represents a portion of the debt service that teachers and administrators pay each year against what they might rightfully invest in helping students advance academically. (p. 7)

Contrary to conventional wisdom, Rothstein and Wilder argue that addressing the achievement gap is not the most impor- tant inequality to attend to. Rather, they contend that inequalities in health, early childhood experiences, out-of-school experiences, and economic security are also contributory and cumulative and make it near-impossible for us to reify the achievement gap as the source and cause of social inequality. (p. 8)

where they remind us, as education researchers, that we do not merely have an achievement gap—we have an education debt. (p. 8)

The Potential for Forging a Better Educational Future (p. 8)

Where could we go to begin from the ground up to build the kind of educa- tion system that would aggressively address the debt? (p. 8)

It would have to be a place where our Institutional Review Board and human subject concerns would not keep us from proposing aggressive and cutting-edge research. It would have to be a place where people were so desperate for the expertise of education researchers that we could conduct multi- ple projects using multiple approaches. It would be a place so hungry for solutions that it would not matter if some projects were quantitative and others were qualitative. It would not mat- ter if some were large-scale and some were small-scale. It would not matter if some paradigms were psychological, some were social, some were economic, and some were cultural. The only thing that would matter in an environment like this would be that education researchers were bringing their expertise to bear on education problems that spoke to pressing concerns of the public. I wonder where we might find such a place? (p. 8)

Wow! In many cases we ed researchers are fighting nonfights. (p. 8)

n his 1993 AERA Pres- idential Address, “Forms of Understanding and the Future of Educational Research,” Elliot Eisner spoke of representation— not the mental representations discussed in cognitive science, but “the process of transforming the consciousness into a public form so that they can be stabilized, inspected, edited, and shared with others” (p. 6). So we must use our imaginations to construct a set of images that illustrate the debt. (p. 8)

Blog Logo

Bodong Chen


Published

Image

Crisscross Landscapes

Bodong Chen, University of Minnesota

Back to Home