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EDUC 302

Kyle F Scott
Midterm Essay

The essay I selected was “How Schools Shortchange African American Students”, as an

African American student interested in becoming an educator this article struck a chord with

me. Some inequalities in the educational system are systemic and difficult to identify.

Challenging these inequalities can at time be difficult. This article attempts to present some

perspectives on how educators in an attempt to meet or exceed the standards unintentionally

shortchange. The article on first glance offers a potential look into the issues facing African-

American students, but in reality it offers a look into the problems inherent in social class

differences.

The article starts by deconstruction the problems developing as a result of the recent

trend in outside-inside perspective educational policies. These educational policies, created by

non-educators, focus on high stakes testing results which leads educators to become focused

on the results and not sound pedagogical theory and practice. The “No Child Left Behind” act,

plays a prominent role in authors’ argument about why these reforms are hazardous to our

children’s future. This policy rewards or withholds funding based on standardized testing

scores; those schools which perform well receive funding while those who perform poorly

either receives less or no funding at all. This in itself is counter-productive in my opinion, but

more important than that is the effect it has on the methods educators use to achieve this

“standard”. In the article the author explores the idea of how “well-meaning educators” in an

attempt to meet these standards and garner funding are changing the educational system in

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ways which may not be beneficial to all students. These changes have inadvertently widened

the gap between students and are increasing the educational inequalities particularly affecting

lower class students, which in this case is embodied in African American students.

In response to poor performance on standardized testing, educators are “pushing back”

the curriculum. What this entails is the teaching of more complicated material in younger

grades, for example if you need to increase math proficiency scored in the 3rd grade you start

teaching math in earlier grades. While this might seem like a good idea, it has its inherent

problems which only serve to widen the educational performance gap. Forcing more complex

material on students without the preparation needed doesn’t increase proficiency it actually

causes the students to be behind the curve at earlier ages. Educators must keep in mind the

various studies of development and remember to maintain age and developmental level

appropriate learning to foster the cognitive development of their students. Without this I

believe the students will become isolated from their learning and will continue to perform

poorly on standardized tests.

The second point addressed is in regard to the basic assumptions educators make about

the social background students have had prior to entering the public school systems. This

culturally based assumption assumes that parents read to their children and engage in other

educational activities. That is not always true, and more based on class and SES status,

however since the dominant culture views parental involvement as the norm, and therefore

would not conceive of other options. When educators start with preconceived assumptions

about what experiences their students have had they in fact blind themselves to their students’

experiences and lack thereof. Another point about the students’ backgrounds is tied to their

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preschool experiences; in the article the author cites a school in which the administration was

unaware of the percentage of students who had received pre-schooling which makes it difficult

to judge the academic level of the students. This lack also included a deficiency in knowledge of

the backgrounds of the parents, which directly relates to the social and cultural experiences of

the students, and thus their educational experiences.

The third major issue addressed in the article involves the devastating effects of ignoring

the large differences in the pre-school experiences of the students. Most educators assume

that the children start at the same cognitive and developmental level in kindergarten which is

not true. The article describes the different ideologies of white middle class families and their

African American lower class contemporaries. The middle class parents see the value of pre-

school education and have the resources to afford their children the opportunity to have this

educational and developmental experience, retarding their entry into the public school system

until around the age of 5 or 6. The lower class parent share the belief in the importance of

schooling but not having the same resources, are unable to provide the same same caliber

preschool experience (if one at all) and are forced to place their children into the public school

system at earlier ages, around 4. This disparity in educational and developmental experiences

is only further exacerbated by the educators’ ignorance of that difference. When educators do

not acknowledge the differences in experiences they are unaware of the unique needs of their

students. Their teaching methods can take the students with less experience and further

pushed them behind the curve making it more difficult to succeed. This ignorance of

background and preschool experience coupled with the “pushing back” of the curriculum

creates the necessary environment for performance disparity to flourish and grow.

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After exploring the major issues inherent with the confluence of these conditions the

author offers some insight into how we can begin to address this problem. Preschool education

can help to bridge the gap in experience levels which can even the playing field, however in

order to do that we must first tackle the hurdle of funding. To support the argument for

universal preschool, the author provides the results of studies done on the effects of pre-

schooling. The study results have been promising and lend credibility to the argument for pre-

schooling and gives options for bridging the educational performance gaps.

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the intrinsic motivation in discussing my choice

of this article. As I previously mentioned as a future African American educator, I am keenly

interested in the challenges facing young African American students. The title led me to believe

that the article would present a new perspective on how we as educators and more specifically

as African American educators can make changes in the education system; however I was a

little disappointed. While I feel that the authors brings up some valid points about how the

educational system is inadvertently shortchanging some of its students. I did not feel that the

article addresses problems specific to African-American students. The problems presented

here are more related to class position and SES, than to racial factors. One of the major things

we’ve discussed thus far this semester has been the hidden class conflict. This article in my

opinion is another example of hidden class conflict. The author presented the arguments as if

they were based in race but in fact they seem to be based in social class. The students who are

performing poorly on standardized happen to be black, but more importantly they come from

lower SES, which limits their resources and access to services.

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I find it hegemonic the way in which the class conflict is being hidden behind issues of

race. Racial conflicts conveniently hide the issues of class privilege and the inequality that

ensues. The fact that we are looking at this problem as an issue of race and not class is also

disturbing because it hides the many racial issues which exist in the educational system. These

issues can be reduced to a disparity in levels of cultural capital, which includes access to the

power structure which creates these policies. These educational disparities are less based in

racial differences but more based in social and economic differences. The differences in access

to services has little to do with race, or at least in this article the author isn’t talking of the

inequalities based in racial privilege. One could make the argument that the difference in SES is

historically based in race, but that is not addressed in this article. Earlier in the semester we

discussed an article on “white privilege” in which we analyzed the relationship between SES and

race and how being history prohibited access to resources can affect future generations SES.

I would have liked to see more information about the disadvantages faced by African

American students’ in the assimilation process in school. There is brief mention of the behavior

issues and the dominant cultures’ perspective of young African American as rambunctious

unruly children. It is clear from this description that the school administration is viewing their

African American students from the dominant culture perspective which does not value the

cultural ideals of the dominated culture. The fact that the author alludes to the administrators’

lack of concern for their students’ academic achievement to focus on their behavior makes me

wonder why the author didn’t explore this aspect for it seemed to me to be more related to

race than the other points. We’ve looked at other articles with a more detailed focus on race in

schools and how the school system through hidden curriculum, goes about assimilating their

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students, and I think that If an article is going to make the claim of explaining how “Schools

shortchange African American children” if should present an analysis of racial issues and not

financial, social class issues. I guess however that this is a product of the invisibility of class and

the ever-presence of race as a surface trait easily identifiable.

Now with that being said, I do agree with the conclusions that the author comes too

about needing to make changes in the way we educate our students. The addition of universal

preschool for all students, is but one of many steps to bridge the performance gaps. Like in the

article we read “On Savage Inequalities” an interview with Jonathan Kazol, I think that one of

the manners in which we can erase the inequalities in standardized test scores is to equalize the

playing field giving all students access to the same educational resources at an early age. The

way we do that is to increase funding so that all students regardless of their class background

can receive the same tools. Another issue that needs to be addressed is the application of

teaching techniques which may be effective for middle-class families and not as effective for

lower class students and as educators we need to be aware of that and able to adapt our

techniques to suit the needs of our students. I find it interesting to note that the author doesn’t

make the distinction between methods for white students and methods for black students,

which furthers my point that the article wasn’t truly about race but about class.

I found the article interesting, but disappointing. I think perhaps it should have been

titled “How School Shortchange lower class students”, as that was the bulk of the article and it

more supports the information presented. The information presented here is application to all

students of lower SES, regardless of their race.

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