Eliminating the achievement gap, part 2 of 3: What about race?

In my last post, I wrote about the study by Greg J. Duncan and Aaron J. Sojourner, Can Intensive Early Childhood Intervention Programs Eliminate Income-Based Cognitive and Achievement Gaps? They found than an intensive early childhood program including home visits and full-time, high-quality preschool from age one to three could essentially eliminate the income-based achievement gap by age three.

That’s huge — especially since the income-based achievement gap has been growing over the past 50 years. But what about the racial achievement gap, which remains unconscionably large in Minnesota?

There’s no doubt that early childhood education is essential in closing achievement gaps. Duncan and Sojourner, however, caution that the specific infant and toddler programs that they studied may not work the same way in closing race-based gaps:

“A second cautionary note is that success in closing income-based gaps may not generalize directly to success in closing gaps defined by race or ethnicity. … [We] did not find the kinds of consistent impact patterns favoring minority children as we did for low-income children. This is an important issue for future research.”

Black low-income children and white low-income children benefited from the program. Black high-income children and white high-income children also benefited, but not as much as low-income children.

A big part of the race-based achievement gap is tied to income, since there also are big, race-based income and employment gaps. So a program that reduces the income-based achievement gap will also reduce the race-based achievement gap, even if it might not completely eliminate that gap.

Can we micro-fine-tune early childhood programs to target the race-based achievement gap? I doubt it — and that’s likely the wrong approach anyway.

The race-based achievement gap is one of a whole list of race-based disparities — income, health, housing, employment, wealth, incarceration … the list goes on and on. Structural and institutional racism pervade our entire society. (So does individual racism, but that’s a different discussion.) Education is essential, but a solution to the achievement gap ultimately includes action against all of the structures and institutions that support, serve, and perpetuate racism.

Want to sign on for the next half-century of the civil rights movement? There are plenty of arenas for engagement, from politics to the arts to you-name-it. Whatever your focus, education must be an essential concern.

For our children — for all of our children, and for our future — for all of our futures, every single one of us needs to care about education, to think about how our schools serve or do not serve our children, and to work and vote to make our schools better. It’s not accident or coincidence that reading and writing and schools were forbidden to slaves in many states. It’s not accident or coincidence that the struggle to desegregate schools was just as important and as violently resisted during the 1950s-1960s civil rights movement as was the campaign for voter registration.

When a study shows that high-quality, intensive early childhood education, from birth to age three, is hugely successful in reducing the achievement gap, that’s a place to begin. After that — there’s more to be done, and I’ll talk about the rest of the job in my next post.

Related posts:

Eliminating the achievement gap, part 1 of 3: Focusing on income

Eliminating the achievement gap, part 3 of 3: No silver bullets

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