Friday, May 7, 2010

Dr. King, the Lunch Bunch, and the Achievement Gap

Another blog prompting triple coincidence yesterday. Last night I watched the outstanding PBS American Experience biography of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I have read and watched shows about Martin Luther King before. I have had a tour of Selma, Alabama thanks to Dr. James Carter, former superintendent of Selma, who assists with QISA's Demonstration Site in Perry County, Alabama. I have visited Brown Chapel, where Dr. King started several of his historic marches. But something about American Experience really caught and held my attention. Perhaps it was the program's emphasis on the truth that, although James Earl Ray pulled the trigger on the gun that killed Dr. King, it was the country's racism that "put the gun in his hand." My wife and I both gasped audibly when a very average looking white woman in an on the street interview following the assassination calmly said, "He probably got what he had coming to him." I'd like to think I am not naive. I grew up in an inner city, but the events of those days are always shocking to watch.

Coincidentally, I came across a news story out of Ann Arbor, Michigan that told of a Black Students Only Field Trip at an elementary school there. In short, African American students went on a field trip to hear an African American rocket scientist speak about his work as a way of inspiring them with the limitless possibilities open to them. The students on the trip are part of a group called the Lunch Bunch who receive special attention in order to improve their academic performance in school. The news story includes excerpts from the principal's defense of the field trip, which, according to the article, is "part of his school’s efforts to close the achievement gap between white and black students."

Coincidentally coincidentally I had just previewed a forthcoming QISA research article on the relationship between the achievement gap and what we call the expectation gap (both students expectations of themselves and their perceptions of their teacher's expectations of them as measured on the My Voice survey). So there you have the convergence of three events linked by a common thread.

The thread comes right from the stirring words of that most famous speech of MLK.  The particular words that move me to tears every time I watch a video of "I Have a Dream" are: "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." I can't quite make it all fit together. These words, the field trip, the achievement gap. I can't get free from the feeling that, as well intentioned as the Ann Arbor program may be, setting apart a group of students based on the color of their skin promotes another kind of gap in schools that contributes to the achievement gap.

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