Friday, November 2, 2007

Readings: Race, School Achievement, and Educational Inequality

Wiggan, G. (2007). Race, School Achievement, and Educational Inequality: Toward a Student-Based Inquiry Perspective. Review of Educational Research 77(3), pp. 310-333.

I love the Review of Educational Research. I love review articles in general. As someone who is stepping into a new role as liaison to the College of Education and the department of Political Science, review articles provide needed summaries of the major research topics in the disciplines I am going to support.

What I love about both Education and Political Science especially is the readability of these articles. Greg Wiggan's piece was tight, succinct, and very well written, making it an easy read on the bus to work this morning.

Plot summary:
  • Researchers have tried to explain the gap between white and black K-12 students in academic achievement primarily through four explanations: genetic differences across the races, the family and community environments students grow up in, the expectations teachers have for students of different races, and finally, students' opposition to the culture they encounter at school versus the culture they are embedded in at home.
  • Of these four, the first three are deterministic - the students themselves are at the mercy of some external factor (genetics, society, or teachers, respectively). Only the last assumes the students themselves are agents in their own development.
  • Wiggan makes a case for analyzing students' own perspectives on what achievement is, the competency of their teachers and the quality of their own education - up until this point, researchers have only been using students to confirm or refute theories - students have not had participatory power in the research process. Their voices have largely been marginalized. By placing importance in the responses students provide to questions about teacher competency, the meaning of 'achievement', and other research questions, we will be gaining a better understanding of how students interact at school, at home, in their communty, with standardized tests, and more.
  • As mentioned in the article, it seems like achievement is something that is hard to define. I imagine many of the articles and studies Wiggan referred to define what achievement is for their own purposes, but it makes it difficult to compare studies with varying methodologies - heck, even with the SAME methodologies!
  • There's a move to focus on the students themselves in research. I wonder how some of these studies analyze the interviews they conduct with the students, and what they're learning about students' own view of their achievement. Do low performing students simply believe that academic achievement isn't valuable? Does it seem unattainable?
  • At the core of this article is the problem of racism and poverty; these social issues don't just affect education - they affect people's entire lives. For minority students, is academic achievement a way out of poverty? For those same students, does academic achievement SEEM like a way out, or just seem like accepting the academic culture as more valid than their own culture?
I'm going to start reading more of these articles in hopes of finding some things that spark my interest. After moving to Texas, finding a house, having a kid, I'm going to seriously think about doing a little more research (a.k.a. getting a PhD). But I want what I do to be directly applicable to practitioners - mainly, librarians, educators, parents.

Articles like these are highly accessible. It's been a while since I've read anything outside the library and information science field - this was refreshing.


Kane said...

I think the family and community environments are the biggest factor in the issue. The family, especially, can give that support the child needs to become better at school.

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