As a current Teach for America corps member, the achievement gap is rarely off my radar these days. However, I always have to catch myself when I name-check the widely observed phenomenon of low-income students of color falling behind their more affluent, white and Asian peers in academic performance to people who have no idea that this is even a thing.
“So what’s the solution?” people like my dad ask me when we’re talking about this stuff. “Is it the parents? Teachers? The kids themselves?”
Anybody who follows this issue will tell you, yes, and no, to all. It’s a complicated pastiche of factors that some of the best minds in education are trying to unravel.
But that’s not specifically what I want to talk about.
I wanted to throw my two cents into the debate in terms of tech—that, in addition to the achievement gap being made up of many things (literacy, math skills, socioemotional issues, I could go on…) the achievement gap is also comprised of an extremely unequal distribution of tech skills, knowledge, interest, and resources.
A lot of people, myself included, view educational inequity as a civil rights issue. It absolutely is—maybe not one that is as intentionally perpetuated by the institution as Jim Crow or segregation was, but one that is every bit as detrimental to communities across the country. Bad schools are keeping illiterate and poor communities illiterate and poor, and the communities centered around these schools suffer with them. I would argue that explicitly teaching the kinds of basic technical skills necessary to hold a job and survive in the 21st century is just as much a mandate as getting kids up to grade level in reading.
Many reports have said that the economy is growing, and that more jobs have been created for Americans. I’ll give you one guess as to which industry most of those jobs are in. It’s definitely not manufacturing or unskilled labor. What concerns me is that kids going to school in low-income neighborhoods don’t have access to the necessary basics early on to even have a fair shake at landing any of these new jobs in tech because so many of these schools are woefully behind in preparing kids to function in an increasingly tech-savvy economy.
At the school where I work, we preach and push for success in college, careers, and in life. However, the vast majority of my students don’t know how to type and format a college-style research paper, use an online library database for research, or send a business email. How will these kids—they’re seniors now—survive in college if they’re hurting for these skills when they get there? At that point, it will be too late, and they will already be far behind their more affluent peers in not only reading and math skills, but in basic technical knowledge as well. Never mind that many American companies outsource much of their tech and engineering work overseas…if kids in our poorest communities can’t even get a leg up for jobs available in the U.S., then we seriously need to reevaluate what it means to close the achievement gap.