From the Forum for Education and Democracy:
(A version of this paper will appear in the Journal of Teacher Education)
Dear Mister/Madam President:
The very fact that this letter begins with addressing either a man or woman in the office of President of the United States is in itself a cause for celebration and a tribute to the historic nature of this year’s presidential contest. For this we all—regardless of political persuasion—should feel more deeply invested in the promise of democracy to include all Americans regardless of race, class, and gender.
My letter to you is linked specifically to the question of public education and what I believe are the more pressing issues facing your administration and the nation at large regarding the future of public education in our society. To address these issues I want to speak specifically to the question of what has been called popularly, the racial achievement gap.
The “Achievement Gap” has been on the lips of almost every politician, education researcher, education leader, and education policy maker in the nation. The provision of the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, more conventionally known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), that profoundly illuminated this achievement gap was the requirement to disaggregate student test score data based on categories like race, special needs, and English language proficiency. We know that African American and Latino students score substantially lower than their White and (some) Asian American counterparts. According to the National Governors’ Association, the achievement gap is, “a matter of race and class. [And], across the U.S., a gap persists between minority and disadvantaged students and their white counterparts.” It further states, “this is one of the most pressing education-policy challenges that states currently face” (http://www.subnet.nga.org/educlear/achievement/ retrieved electronically 10/27/05). We want to erase this achievement gap. Indeed, that sounds like a noble and good goal.
However, as a new president with presumably a new vision I want to suggest that it is important to begin re-thinking or re-conceptualizing this notion of the achievement gap. Instead of an achievement gap, I believe we have an education debt (Ladson-Billings, 2006). The debt language totally changes the relationship between students and their schooling. For instance, when we think of what we are combating as an achievement gap, we implicitly place the onus for closing that gap on the students, their families, and their individual teachers and schools. But, the notion of education debt requires us to think about how all of us, as members of a democratic society, are implicated in creating these achievement disparities. . . .