We All Need to Work to Close the Gap




The numbers are disturbing: every statistic shows a stark racial difference in academic achievement at Wilson, with whites and Asians outperforming their black and Hispanic counterparts.

The racial achievement gap in education has been an issue across the United States for decades, and DCPS has the largest achievement gap between black and white (and Hispanic and white) students out of all major urban public school systems in the U.S., according to a 2011 federal study.

Clearly, the achievement gap isn’t just a Wilson problem– it has its roots in the racial and economic segregation of DC as a city.  However, a big reason it has continued is because no one claims responsibility for it. While of course it isn’t entirely our fault, Wilson teachers and students have a responsibility to address the disparities in student achievement.

Teachers need to be conscious of the varying needs of students of different races and backgrounds, and make sure that disadvantaged students have the resources and support they need to succeed in AP classes. Wilson has failed at this in the past: last year’s NMSI Saturday study sessions, which were meant to help minority students, ended up mainly benefiting privileged students who could get to school on a Saturday.

Wilson teachers also need to ensure that they are treating students equitably. On-level  classes are stigmatized at Wilson because of the reputation that teachers don’t put as much effort into classes that aren’t honors or AP. It is imperative to recognize that students in on-level classes still deserve the same level of preparation and education. Without it, the achievement gap is much more difficult to close because students who are placed in regular classes starting freshman year never get the academic foundations they need to succeed in more rigorous courses. The extensive amount of notes and out-of-school work that AP classes require aren’t for everyone, and that’s okay, but making the choice not to take APs shouldn’t mean that your learning is less prioritized.

Even when teachers do try to devote the same amount of energy to regular classes, the way that they talk about them can reinforce negative stereotypes. Every member of The Beacon has heard a teacher complain about their on-level classes at one point.

But students also create and perpetuate these stereotypes themselves: the guy who doesn’t do his homework in AP World is labeled as a loaf rather than a student who needs extra support, regardless of his home situation. These stereotypes are inherently one-dimensional and damage student performance and sense of self, whether it means taking away their confidence in their ability to do work or giving them a false sense of superiority.

Students who have had more economic opportunities often view themselves as smarter instead of recognizing their privilege as the biggest reason for their success. Privileged students need to be aware of this unconscious tendency and actively challenge it.

All students, regardless of privilege, should feel comfortable with opening conversations about the achievement gap at Wilson. It’s not our fault that we were put into a tracked system, but we take some of the blame for the achievement gap when we don’t work to close it by raising awareness about its existence and being conscious of the ways it affects us – going outside the boxes that have been set out for us. Yes, we were put in boxes, but staying in them is a choice. •