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Students explore racial achievement gap in U.S.

| Monday, February 2, 2015

This year’s first Soup and Substance lecture, presented by student-led initiative Take Ten, explored the educational achievement gap in minority students with a discussion titled, “Soup and Substance: The Racial Achievement Gap in the U.S.”

Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns provides opportunities for discussion of important social justice issues while also providing food at Soup and Substance.

At the discussion, members of Take Ten, a group dedicated to educating young students about methods of conflict resolution, examined the nuances of the racial achievement gap, particularly the socioeconomic factors and institutionalized racism that can lower academic achievement.

Abby Balmert, a sophomore and member of Take Ten, said several studies demonstrate how poverty and lack of school resources are present at early stages of childhood, and these effects carry over to affect later academic achievement.

“In America, not only does the racial achievement gap start before students even enter school, but over time, it gets more extreme,” Balmert said.

Senior Megan Fuerst said scholars debate whether “racial achievement gap” is the correct term. Many educators and researchers argue it still implies inherent intellectual differences between minority students and affluent white students, as opposed to emphasizing the widespread poverty minority students face.

“Some people say that racial achievement gap is sort of a misnomer and more of a poverty factor,” Fuerst said. “However, the influence of [racial] stereotypes that scholars have divided into direct influences and single influences is still important.”

Fuerst said that, although the term racial achievement gap might be misinterpreted, the effect of institutionalized racism should not be ignored, as racism remains a prominent part of the debate over the educational achievement gap.

“What’s most important to remember is that while many people would attribute it directly to income level and socioeconomic status, there’s so many more nuances to it than that,” Fuerst said.

Senior Kwame Nuako said the racial achievement gap first became prevalent with the advent of eugenics and standardized testing. Nuako said developers of standardized tests during the early 20th century developed tests in order to “weed out” students who were deemed less capable, specifically minority students, immigrants and poor students.

Nuako said that, although some of the racial biases of standardized testing are not as explicit today, ideas of “inherent differences in intelligence between certain minorities,” such as African Americans and Latinos, persist.

Nuako said the racial achievement gap is an issue that demands greater awareness and discussion. He said partnerships between educators and the community are important in order to develop solutions.

“I think it’s great to explore this topic because growing up, you realize it’s such a pervasive issue no matter what background you come from,” Nuako said. “I think it’s good, no matter your background, to explore this topic. There’s a lot of incorrect information out there, and once you actually get to analyze this critically, you can start to analyze these problems. As Notre Dame students, we have the ability to make a difference.”

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