More than 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education, African American students continue to underperform their fellow White students in critical educational areas. This inequality, which has extended to affect other minority groups, including, but not limited to, Hispanic and some Asian American and Pacific Islander students, raises an important question: why is such discrepancy still present in our public school system today?
In their article “The Political Foundations of the Black-White Education Achievement Gap,” authors Michael T. Hartney and Patrick Flavin explore the way in which educational inequality between African American and White students is, in part, perpetuated by racial and political inequities. In their article “Threat in Context: School Moderation of the Impact of Social Identity Threat on Racial/Ethnic Achievement Gaps,” authors Paul Hanselman, Sarah K. Bruch, Adam Gamoran, and Geoffrey D. Borman interpret the results of values affirmation exercises in reducing the inequality in performance of African American and White students. The authors also explore the exercise’s relevance in continuing to address such discrepancies in the performance of minority students today.
Whereas Hartney and Flavin address larger issues of racialized political dynamics in our society today, Hanselman, Bruch, Gamoran, and Borman look at factors contributing racial inequalities specifically in the context of our schools. To that end, the authors of both articles are like-minded in their identification of key overlapping areas in which our society needs to improve so that we may combat the racial achievement gap for African American students in our school system today.
Hartney and Flavin (2014) define the racial achievement gap, in a school context, as composed of “significant disparities” in the high school graduation rates and standardized test scores of African American and White students (p. 5).
Hanselman, Bruch, Gamoran, and Borman (2014) interpret the racial achievement gap in a similar manner, noting that progress in closing the African American-White achievement gap in the late twentieth century has “stalled,” while gaps for the growing Hispanic population are “similarly large” (p. 106).
The articles identify possible contributors to the racial achievement gap as:
- Lack of access to highly effective teachers for minority students (Hanselman et al., 2014).
- Responses to “poor educational outcomes” among White students but not African American students by teacher reform policymaking (Hanselman et al., 2014).
- Indifference of White citizens in identifying and pursuing school reform for educational issues that affect only African American students (Hanselman et al., 2014).
- Demographic composition of schools attended by minority students – school contexts with small minority populations may increase the “salience” of negative stereotypical stances (Hartney & Flavin, 2014).
- Stereotype identity threat – the threat of being judged as a “member of a negatively stereotyped group” and its negative effects on performance – especially for African American students in regards to academic ability (Hartney & Flavin, 2014).
In both works, the authors recognize that the continued existence of educational inequalities between minority and non-minority students may contribute to, and worsen, “existing inequalities” in levels of “political participation for future generations” (Hartney & Flavin, 2014). Also, “real-world impacts” of stereotype identity threat are likely to be heightened by the continued perpetuation of the stereotype (Hanselman et al., 2014).
Hanselman, Bruch, Gamoran, and Borman (2014) also assert that perpetuation of a stereotype identity threat in a school context can contribute to stress, anxiety, decreased working memory, and “increased vigilance” to identity threat cues (p. 107). Such threat responses can contribute to lower academic performance, and “disengagement from learning altogether” (p. 108).
To combat the racial achievement gap in schools, Hartney and Flavin (2014) call for an increased awareness of educational shortcomings affecting both White and African American students by both policymakers and citizens advocating for school reform (p. 21). Their main recommendation is to implement systematic changes that support the needs of all students, not just those who have the privilege of speaking up due to systemic political inequalities present in our society today.
Hanselman, Bruch, Gamoran, and Borman make similar recommendations, though their argument focuses more on what individual schools may do to improve academic context and facilitate the de-stigmatization of certain minority groups. Specifically, the authors look at the implementation of values affirmation writing exercises, which have students affirm “personally important values other than school,” including family, religion, or sports. This process allows students to “buffer” the negative effects of identity threats in school environments (Hanselman et al., 2014).