Race, Student Motivation, and the Achievement Gap


By Gordon Anderson

GordonIn many policy discussions about the “achievement gap” between whites and minorities in public schools, racism and insufficient public funding of schools are frequently given as the primary reason for the gap. But is blaming race or schools getting to the heart of the achievement gaps that exist today? Or, are social factors related to the motivation and preparation of students more important than either of these policy-driven reasons?

Most public schools are not consciously racist

While some individuals employed by public schools may be racist, and some subconscious racial practices may still exist, racist laws related to segregation and civil rights are largely a thing of the past. Further, the increased diversity and intermarriage in urban American melting pots has tempered old racial stereotypes. Especially, government laws and inner-city school policies have consciously strived to eliminate racism from schools over the last 50 years, and often extra programs are funded to help failing students catch up to others.

Yet, newspapers continue to report that inner-city public schools experience greater delinquency and lower performance among racial minorities. And, for at least the last 30 years, legislators have tried to address the achievement gap by earmarking extra funding for public schools in inner cities. However, performance disparities have not improved; if anything, the “achievement gap” is widening. Are minorities failing because of their race, or are other reasons like socialization of children more important?

Government statistical practices promote racial stereotypes

Social scientists can study whether race, or racism, is the strongest correlate to student failure or whether there are other factors. Because of the tragic history of slavery in the United States, statistics are often promoted racially. When schools report to governments on student achievement, they are asked to do so by race. So charts based on statistics from departments of education get generated like this:

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