The achievement gap, racism, and ESSA

With the Department's focus on ESSA this year, I've been revisiting links to articles, interviews, and other stuff I've bookmarked (including the piece by Robert B. Moore from 1976 excerpted at bottom of this post) in an effort to better understand where we're going before the Department submits its assessment and accountability plan to US/ED next year (either March 6, 2017 or July 5, 2017).

One of the items I've come across is a short WBUR Here & Now interview by Eric Westervelt with Pedro Noguera.(1) The interview was broadcast on December 8, 2015, just two days before President Obama signed ESSA into law.

He asked Noguera how much of an impact the new legislation is likely to have on underserved students. Noguera said he believes, "ESSA perpetuates the notion that we can address inequality and academic outcomes simply by focusing on schools".

That made me stop and think, again, that policymakers must take a hard look at what can realistically be accomplished under this new law.

With evidence of institutionalized racism coming to light every day, I'm questioning anew the validity of "closing the achievement gap", if everyone [up and down the educational enterprise] isn't first taking a hard look at their biases and the stories we aren't even aware we're telling ourselves. For many students, English language learners and economically disadvantaged children among them, these stories can have a profound impact and it's all the more important that we're aware of them.

One of the common narratives of the Common Core is that it was designed to give all children a common set of benchmarks from which to gauge progress in student achievement. But, the more I think about it, the more naïve and culturally unsound it seems. Perhaps, because, the Core ignores not only cultural differences, but because there's a lot more that schools can do to provide great learning in school for children that also promotes their strengths, and we don't seem nearly as interested in promoting that.

When Massachusetts re-wrote rubrics for educator evaluation a few years ago, a strand was added for all educators about connecting culture with instruction. If we knew, acknowledged, and understood our biases, what would change? What would we expect? What might be achieved? Could positive self-affirmations about one's identity lead to higher outcomes?

But, I digress.

The Equity and Excellence Commission delivered their report and recommendations for "improving education for every American child", but to my knowledge, neither federal or state Departments of Ed have had satisfactory conversations about race in light of that report. In terms of policy, how can we expect to effectively address the achievement gap under ESSA unless we have all of the conversations we need to have?
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1. Noguera is professor of education at UCLA, where he directs the Center for the Study of School Transformation. He's a leading voice for public education and an expert on school reform, diversity, and the achievement gap. Much of his work focuses on ways schools are influenced by social and economic conditions in urban, regional, and global contexts. He's also a parent of five children who have attended public schools.

An excerpt from Robert B. Moore's Racism in the English Language, 1976