“Nothing is wrong with improving your children’s opportunities,
except when it means disadvantaging and disenfranchising the
American dream for others.” —Thomas Shapiro By Francisco D.
Carranza and Vichet Chhuon, UCSB’s Gevirtz Graduate School of

Underrepresented ethnic minorities’ academic underachievement is
an elusive problem for researchers, policymakers and teachers.
Historically, African-Americans and Latinos have been performing
significantly lower in school than their European American
counterparts. racial_diversity.jpgThis achievement gap has received
considerable attention from the research and teaching communities;
but, any success in narrowing this gap is only possible with the
help of all Americans. Thus, there is one significant question that
needs to be asked of the general public: Do Americans really want
equity in education?

The desegregation of schools, for the most part, has seen
limited success for raising minority student achievement. It seems
that desegregation at most schools simply refers to having some
minority students and white students together on the same school
campus without really integrating them in classrooms, clubs, and
other academic and social activities. For instance, academic
tracking, a system of ability-based courses, creates segregated
classes where minority students — often African-American, Mexican
American, and those not proficient in speaking English — are placed
in lower academic tracks while their white and Asian counterparts
are placed in college preparatory and advanced placement

Tom Lovelace, a researcher of educational policy at the Brookings Institution, has studied this
practice and identified a troubling trend. He found that
de-tracking, a reform policy that eliminates ability-based classes,
was less likely to occur in those schools predominated by white
students. In contrast to schools in which minorities constitute a
larger percentage of the student body, schools with mostly white
students were much more likely to maintain an arrangement of
academic courses by ability groupings. Jeannie
, a professor at UCLA and a scholar who has studied
tracking for over 20 years, examined the tracking policies in two
school systems: Rockford, Illinois and San Jose, California. She
found that African-American and Latino students with the same test
scores as their white and Asian peers were much less likely to be
placed in advanced courses.

research yielded similar troubling findings. Staiger,
a graduate of UCSB and currently a professor at Clarkson University
in New York, revealed that schools in poor, underserved, and ethnic
minority communities create “magnet” and “gifted” programs to
facilitate voluntary desegregation. She found that although the
ostensible societal objective of integration is to increase
educational opportunities for minority students, white students
were often the ones who benefited the most because they filled most
of the slots in these enrichment courses. In another study, Oakes
and John Rogers — associate director of the Institute for Democracy,
Education and Access
— discussed what happened when a principal
of a diverse Los Angeles area high school attempted to de-track his
school by converting all low track classes into college preparatory
courses. A number of positive results emerged: increased
participation of non-white students in student government and other
extracurricular activities, increased academic achievement of
minority students, and an increased number of minority students
were successfully satisfying university admission requirements.

However, not all were pleased with the changes. A large number
of community members, particularly white parents, argued that their
children were experiencing a “watered down” version of college
preparatory instruction. These parents believed that their children
were no longer being challenged. The authors explained that white
parents pushed forward a dual system where the school would have a
less “rigorous” college preparatory curriculum for those students,
African-American and Latinos, who were “watering down” their
children’s education. This counter movement by white parents took
place even though their children were still performing well in

Unfortunately, the educational struggles of minority students
are conveniently explained by teachers, school administrators, and
the public through a focus upon families’ moral and cultural
deficiencies. That is, it is the lack of achievement-oriented
norms, values, and work ethic that explains why minority students,
particularly African-American and Mexican American students, just
are not doing that well in school. Asian students are given a pass
here because the group’s exaggerated success provides fuel for
those looking to problematize other minority groups. For some
people, holding on to these cultural deficit explanations is
comfortable. After all, if you are on top, why acknowledge that it
is the structural organization of schools that really determines
who does well? Besides, these are other people’s children.

We certainly do not pretend to have the answers to this elusive
problem, but we might want to start by asking: Do we really want
equity in education? Francisco D. Carranza and Vichet Chhuon
are doctoral students in the Gevirtz Graduate School of
at the University of California at Santa


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