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Posted on Sun, May 30, 2010 : 6 a.m.

Why are people not more upset about the achievement gap than the field trip?

By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

When Dr. Franklin Chang-Diaz, Costa Rican-American astronaut, came to the University of Michigan for Space Day many years ago, I took my children to hear him speak.

With a name like Chang-Diaz, I was pretty sure he must be part Chinese, and I wanted my children to meet a multiracial Chinese-American astronaut so that they could see with their own eyes that it was possible.

A little embarrassed to be asking something so personal, we waited until after the Q&A, but he smiled when we asked, and he told us the story of how his grandfather had come to Costa Rica from China. There was something very sweet and intimate about that moment and, not surprisingly, his message to my children—third-generation, multiracial, bilingual, and part-Chinese like himself—was different than his message to everyone else. He emphasized the importance of understanding different cultures and languages when one is in space working with astronauts from other countries.

When Dr. Sally Ride came to town for her great Sally Ride Science Festival for Girls, we also went to meet her. Again, simply to let the children see with their own eyes that women could be astronauts if they wished, to hear a woman talk about the importance of math and science—and then let their imaginations take it from there.

I have been slow to respond to the Dicken Elementary School field trip controversy because I have been so perplexed by the anger in people’s reactions. Reading through the comments after every article about it has been so painful, so personal, that I can only read a few at a time.

Remember, this whole thing was about a group of students who came together at lunchtime to support each other and build community in the face of a staggering achievement gap, to form a foundation upon which to help and get help from their peers, to meet someone who looked like them who had succeeded—the main purpose, to improve academically.

Small groups, peer-based support, older students helping younger students, role models, exposure to what is possible—that is exactly what I do for my own children to help them beat the statistics and stereotypes waiting for them. Why such anger?

I understand that there were some problems with implementation, and I know things are different for public institutions. I am not discounting that.

However, what I do not understand is why people are not more upset about the achievement gap. That is the real problem. How long have we had this achievement gap in Ann Arbor? Twenty-five, thirty-five years? Enough time for children to grow up here and have their own children back in our schools. That is the real reason people should be angry—not that thirty African-American students met a scientist. The achievement gap is striking because it cuts across socioeconomic lines and plagues all our schools. If the color of one’s skin really did not matter, then there would be no achievement gap, no earning gap, no glass ceiling, no under- or over-representation.

Syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts writes heartbreakingly about a mother brought to tears by a CNN test revealing her Caucasian 5-year-old daughter's untaught bias against African-Americans that the mother naively did not think would be an issue in this age of Oprah and Obama. We are all affected.

Racism is not just white guys wearing white hoods. More often it is subtle, and lies in a glance, a gesture, a joke. Its effects can also be subtle—an insecurity, a harder road, a dream never pursued. We can convince ourselves that race is no longer a problem, and we can pass Proposal 2. However, the achievement gap is telling us something is wrong. Listen.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Ann Arbor and the Big Island of Hawaii. She is editor of Asian American Village, lead multicultural contributor for, and a contributor for New America Media's Ethnoblog. She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her website at, her blog at, and she can be reached at



Sat, Jun 5, 2010 : 4:09 p.m.

I'd like to chime in regarding how many AAPS students with learning disabilities and / or ADHD are not being encouraged by the schools to excel or recruited for AP and other advanced classes. On the contrary, I have repeatedly seen my kids and the quirky kids of many of my friends refused appropriate classroom accommodations by teachers under the banner of "maintaining academic standards" and "fairness". Requiring a student with dysgraphia to write their mandatory in-class journal in ink, with points off for spelling, grammar and neatness rather than using a laptop computer is NOT upholding a standard of fairness, it's making it impossible for that student to succeed in that class. Denying a student with organizational issues access to the teachers' lecture notes before each class session is not "preparing them for the demands of college", it's proving how out of touch that teacher is with how actual colleges and universities function these days. Course packs and lecture notes are required by most academic departments to be distributed by the instructor to *all* students, and are available by Federal civil rights law to any student with a documented disability at any institution which receives Federal funds. AAPS does indeed spend a lot of time, effort and energy on those special education students who are in self-contained classrooms. And they do a pretty good job at working with students with dyslexia, including having trained many more reading specialists in Orton-Gillingham methods (which have a long and successful track record) and introducing Read 180 (which seems to dramatically improve students' print decoding skills, but has a much shorter history) over the last few years. But when it comes to students who spend the great majority of their time in general education classrooms, students who make up the vast majority of the special education achievement gap, the attitude of many teachers and school administrators is that *those* kids are not my problem, they should not be allowed to cause me to do anything differently from what I have always done. Those students with learning disabilities and /or mild autism must be dealt with by the special education teachers. They may not even belong in my classroom at all, if I'm teaching college prep, AP or Advanced courses. So pardon me if I think focusing AAPS' professional development time and attention on getting teachers to be "culturally competent" in Afro-American culture, and nearly all of the efforts to reduce the achievement gap centered on the black-white racial gap is wrongheaded, ineffective and potentially illegal under Proposal 2.


Sat, Jun 5, 2010 : 2:40 p.m.

Thank you, Jack for adding this information. We had similar experiences with our daughter but had the money to get private testing. And yes, there is a definite trend to not provide services. It is called "decertifying". They give the world's most rinky dink tests and then declare that the child passed. My daughter scored in the 18th percentile in reading and that was considered good enough. I am sure kids do come to AAPS from other school districts. But they also exit for small private schools and especially for charter schools. My own daughter has transferred 3 times among private, charter, and AAPS schools. This is very, very common. Parents of special education students spend half their lives talking to the school trying to get support for their child to LEARN (yes, learning is what is supposed to happen in school)! Teacher knowledge of the subject is dismal and kids are very commonly passed on through whether they have learned or not.


Sat, Jun 5, 2010 : 12:20 p.m.

Mr. Norton - You have a knack for sounding knowledgeable, having a lot to say about subjects you know little about. For those who read these comments who do not have special education students, let me try to clear up a few things. You say, "I don't think that it should be a shock that children who have physical roadblocks to learning would perform less well, on average, than other students on standardized tests." I have a few problems with that. First, IQ tests are standardized tests. My own child's IQ tested in the the mid 130s. She is learning disabled, dyslexic and ADHD. STANDARDIZED IQ tests are instrumental in the determination of learning disabilities. Tell me, can you write a short story at the drop of a hat, think of different plots at the rate of a dripping water faucet? Can you write poetry cleverly and quickly? Can you paint or draw beautifully? Estimate distances accurately without measuring or create a structure without a blueprint? Perhaps you have a "physical roadblock to learning"? Many learning disabled kids have these talents. The jury is out on this one. In a more enlightened age, which I'm not sure we'll ever reach, variations in learning styles may be appreciated. It is not in ours. You have taken what is average and defined everyone who does not meet that narrow norm as having something wrong with them. And then cavalierly throw them to the lions. I have read in several places that over 2/3 of our prisoners have learning disabilities and/or ADHD. Your comments belie your self-proclaimed sensitivity. We knew by the time our daughter was two that there was a problem. However, the schools would not test until Grade 2, saying that they could not be sure if the causes were not develpmental until that stage. So we waited. Lost time. Then they told us she didn't have a language disability. We pushed. We were told to our faces that they (the teachers) were the professionals, not us. We pushed. As it turned out, they had only given cursory attention to our daughter's language problem, and had administered a superficial test that did not identify her language disability. By that time, it was too late. She was only eligible for a half a semester of services before she hit middle school where services were diminished. We did not have a lot of money, but put what we could into private tutors. Our experience was not unique and still is not unique, years later. So, yes, there are services, and no, they are not necessarily adequate. The schools fight providing them. You go on to say, "When differences show up, and the groups who are falling behind are from ethnic groups which have historically been the target of discrimination,...." Really? I can think of no ethnic group that has been the target of discrimination throughout history more than the Jews. Hands down. It continues to this day and seemingly will go on and on. Yet they tend to be high achievers. Asians? Also discriminated against in this country. And doing well. The Irish? Treated abominably. Doing well. The poor? Not doing so well, but that is not an ethic group, is it? Your argument is spurious. To annarbor28: I used to be good at cites when our daughter was in the school system, but no longer am. However, if you contact the Learning Disabilities Association, they can provide you with a wealth of information. Their web address is Over 80% of the special education population are either LD or ADHD or both.

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Fri, Jun 4, 2010 : 9:17 p.m.

@JackieL I certainly don't mean to insult anyone. My own children do not receive special education services, so I am not directly familiar with how the system works. I know many people who do use those resources, though. While many people may not feel enough is being done, I think it is hard to argue that the district is doing nothing. In contrast to your comments, AAPS enrollment of all children receiving special ed services has been the largest growing segment of the district's enrollment. A lot of this is because of what AAPS offers that other districts do (or can) not. Secondly, there are significant funds committed to special ed services, paid for with either direct state money or reimbursed by the county special ed millage. There are professionals in every school building whose job is to work with kids receiving these services. In fact, spending on special education is the only part of the AAPS operating budget that has exceeded inflation over the last six or seven years. Many of these services have also become legal requirements over the same time period. But others are much more qualified to speak to this than I can. The PAC (Parent Advisory Committee for Special Education) is a strong organization in the district, and makes public reports at each school board meeting. I'm sure they would have much more informed comments to make. Nevertheless, I don't think that it should be a shock that children who have physical roadblocks to learning would perform less well, on average, than other students on standardized tests. For that reason, it's not a very useful measure. More important would be how that gap changes with time (hopefully narrowing) as children progress through the school system. In any case, your comment assumes that the district is doing essentially nothing. I disagree, and would claim that the gap would be much wider were the current special ed programs not in place. I don't say that it is sufficient, just that the district does make a difference. This is different from the question of how different ethnic groups perform, when the children should not, on average, have any difference in their physical ability to learn. The assumption here is that all children who do not have learning disabilities should theoretically be performing at the same level, on average. When differences show up, and the groups who are falling behind are from ethnic groups which have historically been the target of discrimination, you have to wonder if our schools are succeeding in educating all children effectively. What that takes depends on the child, and what legacies the child brings into the classroom with her.


Fri, Jun 4, 2010 : 8:36 a.m.

So, Mr. Norton, let me rephrase what I see you saying. Test scores for African American students are low so we need to increase programs, support, and resources for them in order to close the gap. At the same time, test scores for special education students are even lower but they are doing just fine and have all of the resources they need. If test scores are the measure, then use them consistently. You are confirming exactly what many of us have been saying all along. AAPS has a myopic view and sees one and only one achievement gap. I am personally not opposed to any of the programs for poor and/or black students. I hope they help. But, it is insulting to experience the lack of awareness and support for other kids that also could do a lot better. You obviously have no idea how many kids with learning disabilities, adhd, speach impediments, mild autism, etc. exit AAPS every year for smaller, more friendly schools. They come back for high school only because the options at that level are very limited.


Fri, Jun 4, 2010 : 7:32 a.m.

Annarbor28---there are different kinds of IQ. A student with dyslexia could have a very difficult time in school but still have a high IQ. A similar concept is that a person can be very coordinated but have a bum leg and not be able to do ordinary physical tasks. So, students with learning disabilities often have high IQ but some problem that prevents them from succeeding in school. There are other students in special ed that have cognitive impairments that would have below average IQ. There is a big mixture. Steve Norton -- if special ed students are getting such great help, why are their test scores so miserable? I doubt that their parents would agree with you in any way. More education for teachers and support for these kids would help the acievement gap also.


Thu, Jun 3, 2010 : 10:04 p.m.

Jack; what reference can you cite that special education students have the same intelligence spread as students in non-special education classes?


Thu, Jun 3, 2010 : 8:30 p.m.

I, too, am stuck in the past. I am Caucasian, from a once-disadvantaged ethnic group. In the 60s I marched in the south, heart in throat, for civil rights. In the 70s, I strongly supported the women's movement. However, what I fought for was equality, not favoritism. So I do not agree with Ms. Wang. Several of Ms. Wang's stances bother me. She managed to ignore the article that came out just after the Dicken affair clearly stating that the achievement gap has more to do with economic status than race or ethnicity. Not a word from Ms. Wang. Secondly, she clearly sees herself as a victim from an underprivileged class. What malarkey. Asians as highly respected, seen as high achievers and smart. Thirdly, she cites a CNN test that labeled a 5 year old as a racist. She chooses to believe this test. I've seen some questionnaires that are so biased ther is no way to answer them without condemning oneself. My observation is that Ms. Wang chooses to believe anything that goes along with her way of seeing things, be it scientific or not, be it legal or not. Note that the parent in this instance was devastated. I wonder if Ms. Wang could pass a test (a real one) regarding bias against Caucasians? I doubt it. I further wonder if she would feel the guilt that this unfortunate parent felt. I doubt that, too. Would other races feel guilt about hating Caucasians? Have not Caucasians been set up to be the greatest of villains? It seems to be okay (or "understandable") to hate Caucasians. But it is not okay to hate any race, ethinic group, sex, etc., Caucasians included. Thirdly, she manages to sweep aside the treatment delivered by the principal of the school to other students who were upset that they, too, were not allowed, to attend. He came into their classrooms and berated them. Young children. Apparently, in Ms. Wang's view, this is acceptable. Fourthly, she manages to avoid the law. As mentioned, I fought for equality. It means a lot to me. To deliver anything less is a very, very slippery slope. Nonetheless, Ms. Wang manages to avoid this, also, ever so prettily, with a concern for the black race that I find just a bit condescending. For example, she implies these students are underachievers. Were these students actually underachievers? I can find no place where it says so, but perhaps I simply missed it? Are black students the only underachievers? Hardly. See my first point. Lastly, I agree with Jackie. The group with the biggest achievement gap are the special education students. These students tend to have the same intelligence as the general population, but services are rather wimpy. Years ago, when parents requsted that special education teachers teach using the Orton-Gillingham method (because it works), the district's response was to forbid it altogether because not all the teachers knew how to teach it. Emotionally ill students were mixed with students with no emotional problems, making it impossible for the students with no emotional problems to learn because all the teachers' time was taken up with the emotional needs of some of the children. Parents have to fight, and fight hard, to get services for their children. Often the wrong tests are administered and parents are told there is no problem when, in fact, there is. Yet, when there are cuts, it seems to always be these students who are up on the chopping block. Where is Ms. Wang's concern for them? These students are truly, truly at risk, more so than any other group.

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Thu, Jun 3, 2010 : 8:02 p.m.

@JackieL, I agree, the gap for special ed students is the largest. But the district provides a whole host of programming, much of it required by law, to help students who have been identified as needing special education. I honestly don't think anyone can describe that as a neglected group, nor should it be. @josber, I didn't grow up in Michigan, so I couldn't say. I did grow up in a mid-sized midwestern city where race lines (and economic lines, and religious lines) were very clear. No, I don't imagine that it is still the sixties. At that time, supporters of civil rights still had crosses burnt on their front yards, and Klansmen told people like my parents that they and I were "in the crosshairs" of their guns. It was sufficiently obvious so that in the 1970s, the state legislature was found guilty of de jure segregation in Federal court because of how it had drawn city lines (expanding the city, but not the schools, among other things). Things have changed, there as well as here. But the legacies are still there. Stuff like that does not evaporate in 30-40 years. Most of the same people, on both sides of the issue, are still there. Today's community leaders were molded during those times. Why would you expect that forty years would erase centuries worth of legislated inequality?


Thu, Jun 3, 2010 : 7:54 p.m.

AnnArbor28, I think you have some of the programs funded in part by UM mixed up. The Rising Scholars all had good grades and good standardized test scores in middle school. The kids were chosen because they already WERE scholars and AAPS and UM wanted to help keep them focused and give them more support during their high school years. The group is made up of students who have some type of disadvantage: like children in single parent households, children who are raised by their grandparents, the children of immigrants, children who don't speak English at home, economically disadvantaged children, etc. Even with these disadvantages, these students had good academic records in middle school. The goal of the program is to help them continue to be what they already are, great students. Also, the children will be doing fundraisers, just like all high school groups, to fund their trips. Lastly, the Rising Scholars are a diverse group. They are not only African Americans, but also African immigrants, Asians, Native Americans, Latinos, Middle Easterners, and Caucasians. Even if you still manage to see some bad in it, at least I've taken a moment to set the record straight for everyone else who might not be so hostile to the idea of some smart kids getting some extra guidance and being encouraged to aim higher.


Thu, Jun 3, 2010 : 5:04 p.m.

@ Steve Norton. Maybe you grew up where everything was defined by race, the Eight Mile line phenomenon still exists in your mind. Maybe that's how you still see the world from what 20, 30 plus years ago? Is it still 1967 for you? Did you ever wonder why the Southfield median income for blacks is higher than whites? Did you ever wonder why Ann Arbor, with it's supposed liberalism, great quality of life, does not attract in large numbers the more affluent blacks of SE Michigan? That's one way to up the achievement gap no one seems to think about.


Thu, Jun 3, 2010 : 2:13 p.m.

I think the problem that many of us have, Mr. Norton, is the extreme focus on 1 and only 1 acheivement gap. The lowest performing group is actually special education students. This group includes students of all races and class that have a wide variety of obstacles to school success. Many of them are very intelligent and talented in certain areas. But I never hear of any programs to help them improve test scores, get into and succeed in advanced classes, get into the elite music groups, get on the sports teams, etc. They have to make it on their own if they can. I think parents want to see support for all of the groups of kids that need help.

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Thu, Jun 3, 2010 : 11:16 a.m.

annarbor28, You're pushing the envelope too far. There is nothing illegal about a program that tries to reach disadvantaged kids if it is open to all. Photos on a website do not a legal case make. In fact, it is the duty of our schools to make sure that every child achieves mastery of various subject matters. For all its faults, the "No Child Left Behind" legislation makes that clear. So, yes, children who need more help should get more help. How else to break the cycle of poverty? "Anonymous", You said: "Regardless of whether you want to attribute to past or current maltreatment, the fact is that you still think anyone who's black is automatically less capable and should be treated as such." No, I don't. But it says a lot about where you are coming from. When I help in the schools, I see individual children. Some of these children struggle, and many (not all) come from low-income families. They may be "white," Latino, African American, or something else. Every child that needs extra help deserves to get it. It's our duty as a society. But our country has a particular history with race, and you cannot deny that African American children to this day face obstacles and suspicions that are unrelated to their family income. Unlike other ethnic groups, many of whom are relatively recent immigrants to this country (like my grandparents), this kind of racism has had a cumulative effect on African Americans for generations. And that complicates efforts to meet the needs of all children. We have a duty to ensure that each child reaches a certain level of mastery and has an equal chance to fulfill their potential. In order to help those who are struggling, we have to understand why they are struggling before we can formulate strategies. It would be foolish to pretend that certain shared experiences, which affect student achievement, do not exist. Not every child needs much help, regardless of their ethnic background. But to help those who do, we have to acknowledge all the problems they face before we can formulate strategies to remove whatever roadblocks hold them back.


Thu, Jun 3, 2010 : 7:57 a.m.

Look at the picture on their website, and you will see that African-Americans make up the vast majority of these students. Regardless, the website makes it clear that it is geared towards African-Americans. Someone in government needs to examine both their admissions criteria, who applied and was accepted, where the funds come from, if the funds are being diverted from other students, do they get more than others (such as international travel on public monies). It needs to pass tests as to whether it is illegal or not. If not, it cannot be allowed to continue. The underachieving students will have to be in classes and activities with everyone else, and their parents will have to work more with them and the schools. Just like the author and other parents do with theirs. It is not the role of schools to substitute for parents, and to use funds illegally to preference some groups over others. The latter is a way to discriminate, and is clearly illegal.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

Thu, Jun 3, 2010 : 5:42 a.m.

The Rising Scholars program includes children of all racesAfrican American kids, Asian American kids, Arab American kids, Hispanic American kids, Caucasian American kids, multiracial kids.


Wed, Jun 2, 2010 : 10:36 p.m.

The excerpt below is from the AAPS "Rising Scholar" website. Per the information below from the website, this program, funded publicly, needs to be investigated as an illegal program that discriminates in favor of African-Americans, by not allowing for equal opportunities for all groups. Also, the money being spent for international travel, if publicly funded, should be equally accessible to all students in the AAPS. Most groups have to raise their own funds for this type of travel. "Our third partnership is with the University of Michigan Programs for Educational Outreach (PEO). We will address the achievement gap as it relates to the underachievers; students that drop below the two-point grade point average. Target Group: Entering 9th graders and 10th graders with a GPA of 1.9 or below (on a 4.0 scale) are deemed to be underachievers because they are performing at a below average level." "This project will utilize the Rising Scholar from the above program who demonstrate certain qualities and excel academically to become mentors for underachieving African American underclassmen. Meetings in the leadership class that was mentioned above will incorporate mentorships with the Rising Scholars. They will explore roles that they could play in breaking the pattern of school failure and guiding the Potential Scholars into the realm of school success." "A partnership with the Detroit Public Schools (specifically Cass Technological School) has been made to include an exchange program. Many of our African American Students have never been in a majority African American School of choice. Neither have they sat in high-level accelerated or AP classes with the majority of students being African American. We initiated this relationship with Cass Technological High School and will also invite students from this school to participate in our international service learning experience. We believe the partnership is necessary. Our school systems are not independent but intertwined. We believe that closing the gap is a global issue."

Bill Wilson

Wed, Jun 2, 2010 : 4:33 p.m.

Wang had to "let the children see with their own eyes that women could be astronauts if they wished"? She "wanted my children to meet a multiracial Chinese-American astronaut so that they could see with their own eyes that it was possible"??? In a day and age when women and men of all races are common in all fields, these statements are so ridiculous as to be laughable.


Wed, Jun 2, 2010 : 3:02 p.m.

Anonymous Due To Bigotry: Judging by the lack of response from the African American community to the achievement qap and comments thereof, I'm wondering if they are suffering from any guilt at all.

Anonymous Due to Bigotry

Wed, Jun 2, 2010 : 1:12 p.m.

At least one poll that I know of has shown that the black community is getting sick of people trying to blame all of their problems on racism. At this point we probably have more white people than black people who think black people are automatically less capable due to years of social injustice or whatnot. My guess is that this is because black people aren't suffering from white guilt.


Wed, Jun 2, 2010 : 7:05 a.m.

annarbor28: At least Frances, and Asian American is concerned enough to take the time and respond to the Dickens situation. Where's the concern from the black community?


Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 10:33 p.m.

The platitudes in the author's recent comments are a reflection of the whole diversity movement's superficial and condescending approach, as if they know more than those of us who have lived the experience. Frances, I suggest you spend 4 years in an inner city school, and "live the dream" before talking down to people. I cannot believe you get paid for this kind of tripe.


Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 4:12 p.m.

Frances: i think that many Dicken Elementary parents would agree with you wholeheartedly that the achievement gap is a serious and well deserved issue. Unfortunately you have missed what has really happened at our school. And as a result, yes, many parents are angry. We've been portrayed as priveleged white parents who are sour that our children didn't get to go on a fieldtrip. That was not the case at all. We didn't complain for the 5 months that the lunch bunch was in action. We didn't complain when the african american children at our school went on the fieldtrip. We only complained when the Principal went into the gr. 5 classroom after the fiedltrip and said some very very bad things to those children. I suggest you do some research before addresing this issue again. This is not about race at our school. This is about a bad principal. And scared kids. And scared parents. And scared staff. The School Board media has steered the topics away from what really happened to camouflage the events ---- no one from our school was complaining about the fieldtrip beyond the fact that it is indeed segregation and it was indeed deemed illegal. Do you really think an entire school of intelligent, multicultural, worldly and involved parents would go crazy over just a fieldtrip? Wow. Makes me sad that so many people are willing to weigh in on this but don't know the facts.

Anonymous Due to Bigotry

Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 3 p.m.

@Steve Norton: We need to stop insulting all black people by forcing the assumption that they must be less educated or capable because of injustices in the past. I can't believe you think that wealthy very intelligent and educated black citizens are still less capable simply because they're black regardless of whether you think the cause is genetic or based on some sort of social injustice. Regardless of whether you think that you're helping somehow by lowering standards and providing some sort of special assistance based purely on race, you're also setting black people up so that when they do get a degree, for example, they're treated like their degree means less than a white person's degree because the black scholar must have had standards lowered for his degree. This elitist condescending attitude that black people are less capable whether it's due to injustices in the past or whatever, regardless of whether they're from wealthy families or not, makes it very difficult for people like you to take any educated black person seriously. Regardless of whether you want to attribute to past or current maltreatment, the fact is that you still think anyone who's black is automatically less capable and should be treated as such. It's time for the guilt mongering and grievance mongering to go. It sets up a tone of hopelessness in the black community and really does nothing but ensconce certain politicians who attempt to politically enslave people by convincing them that "you must vote for me so I can help you. Otherwise your situation is hopeless." It also allows elitist white people to feel superior while avoiding the guilt from doing so. If you want to feel guilty about something, feel guilty about the prejudice and bigotry you're embracing now and not what people did 200 years ago.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 11:59 a.m.

Thanks all for this lively and civil conversation. This is not an easy discussion, and I appreciate everyones thoughtful contributions. First, re the Rising Scholars Program. This is an excellent program targeting low-income at-risk students, regardless of race, with good but not perfect grades who hover on the cusp of college achievement. It supports and mentors these students to show them the way to a good university like the University of Michigan that they might not have considered otherwise. It helps them get into AP courses to make them competitive. It exposes them to the world through travel and service-learning (different destinations each trip), mind-expanding opportunities that rich kids take for granted that low-income kids might not have. It emphasizes leadership and scholarship. It is supported in large part by the University of Michigan to cultivate their applicant pool in order to improve the academic experience of all students. There are ways to successfully support disadvantaged youth. Second, think through this analogy. If a professor gives an exam and everybody fails, then she knows that there is something wrong with the test, something wrong with the students, something wrong with her teaching, or something else wrong somewhere. A good teacher will adapt the test to get the right sort of results, or adapt her teaching style to make sure the students hear her lesson, or otherwise try to figure out what is going on. In the old days (define however you wish), it made sense to mainstream society that women and people of color did not do as well as white males because they did not think women and people of color were as smart or as capableso they were not upset when women and people of color did not do as well as white males on the same exams, and women were directed away from math and science and people of color were directed towards vocational training. Today we know there is nothing intellectually wrong with the students, that race and gender do not determine ones academic potential. So everyone ought to do equally well now. If one group is not, then something is wrong. It is a sign, a flag. Work has been done to take out class and cultural bias in standardized tests, schools are working to make curricula more inclusive, teachers are working on pedagogy, parents are more involved in the schools and in their childrens education, media activists are working on representation and stereotypes in the media, and more. This is a complex problem with many causes, so it needs careful solutions on many fronts. Simply declaring ourselves colorblind is not enough to make it so. Ignoring the realities of race and racism will not make them go away. Same with sexism. Sure, we have made great strides in both areas, but there is still much work to be done. Both African American and Caucasian American five-year-olds tested by CNN know with certainty that the darker skinned child is not as smart or as nice as the lighter skinned child. They are five. Innocents. --Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

Tony Livingston

Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 11:35 a.m.

Personally, I think that a lot of people's frustration is caused by seeing the schools "throwing good money after bad". It is not that we don't want to solve the problem. It is frustration with years of spending millions with little or no positive results. There are many students that need support and it is almost impossible to get anyone in the schools to address other inequities. Perhaps someone could look into the Rising Scholars program and get back to us with some specifics. If there are only 16 students in the program at each school, then how many people are required to help them? I have heard that there are 6 people at Pioneer working on this. No one seems to have any accurate information about the program. Could AA.Com look into it and report the facts? I am very curious.


Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 10:43 a.m.

I am once again hearing the dull thwak of the bat that is once again beating the dead horse. The horse is deceased, please let it rest in peace. As far as I'm concerned - there is no racial or socio-economic excuse for the achievement (or lack of achievement) gap. Intelligence, determination and the drive to achieve is not relative to color or class. It is directly related to how a child is taught to view education and achievement. When a child is supported in their home - by parents or adults that place VALUE on education and support the child in learning, academic growth and being responsible for making sure their child is not wasting an education that will better their lives - you'll find that the gap has more to do with the core values of those raising the child than anything else. If a child is taught to believe that they have limited capabilities based upon color or income - or even gender - they have no reason to aspire to higher goals because they've already been brainwashed into thinking those goals are unattainable. There was a discussion here about children 'taking on' the political ideals of their parents - well - that's not all children learn from their parents. They also learn the attitude of irresponsibility, blame shifting and under-achiever mentality. As parents we are responsible for making sure our kids are getting an education. The schools give them the academics, but we give them the drive and support to take advantage of what the schools give them. My daughter is autistic. If ANYONE is 'limited' or has been labeled 'incapable' - it was my child. Sure - we could have said she's always going to be behind, after all - she has a very good excuse. But we didn't say that, we supported her, we made her education a priority and she has been an honor roll student for the past two years. In regular classrooms and doing the same work as the 'normal' kids. Yes - we actually had to put aside our own wants (you bet I wanted to go out with my husband to see a movie -- but helping her with homework was more important), we aren't rich - couldn't afford tutors or Sylvan Learing Center. But we could work with her and the school to make sure she had ever advantage she could get. That's our responsibility as parents. To see that our kids' will have a future and become responsible members of society. Within whatever capabilities they have - or don't have. Stop blaming race, money, schools or 'not enough hugs' - start looking at the core of the problem. Every child is a clean slate - albeit with different individual capibilities and limitations, but if we keep marking them up with labels, excuses and warnings - we are binding them into a life of our choosing and our own misguided perceptions.

Mike D.

Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 7:24 a.m.

Great column. While limiting this field trip to black kids was a boneheaded (and probably illegal) move, the motivation for it was sound. The vitriol surrounding this trip frankly feels more mean-spirited and racist than it does truly grounded in the desire to level the playing field. Anyhow, I applaud the school's effort, but next time, bring all the kids so nobody can claim "racism" or "reverse discrimination."

Rork Kuick

Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 6:52 a.m.

Question: Has the fraction of Asian-Americans increased at UM schools (particularly medical school) in the last few years as one might have expected after proposal 2 passed in 2006?. I believe a ceiling to their admission was perceived by some people in the past.


Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 6:01 a.m.

Great post Jay Thomas. I hope yours stays, unlike mine. While the author's concern about the achievement gap is noble, her lack of concern, in fact blowing off of, all the other details surrounding the "field trip" are disturbing. I guess shrieking and berating fifth graders and creating a great divide within a school is okay as long as the intentions were well-meaning. And i am still waiting to find out how she thinks pizza and basketball will help with the achievement gap.

Jay Thomas

Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 5:51 a.m.

Oh good grief, where to start. This is a rather bizarre commentary, from which I am left with the impression that the author is willfully blind to anything that does not fit into her world view and agenda. First, to suggest that the reason people were angry was because black students met a black scientist is absolutely preposterous. This is the very subject that the civil rights movement was fought over (seperate and unequal). Segregating students by race in a public school is illegal. The author seems to make light of it, as if it is only a minor detail. Considering her background I think she knows better than that... and so I can only conclude that she believes the ends justify the means. Second. The disparity gap has gone on a lot longer than 25-35 years. And it isn't going to be solved by denying children who aren't black a field trip. Or YELLING AT THEM, because like all kids they'd like to get out of school and have pizza too (which is what happened). As an adult, a columnist and university lecturer, she writes that she is unable to read more than a few comments at a time because it is so painful, so personal. (That's some profession you chose.) Yet she makes no mention of the kids who were subjected to a tirade by their principal IN PERSON. Very insensitive and myopic. I can only imagine If HER children were verbally abused she might be more understanding and not attribute any anger to something else. Third, she is not really upset that people might be angry... only that they are not angry at what SHE wants them to be. Crocodile tears. Asians are the highest income making group in the country. What statistics (and stereotypes) is she hoping her kids don't become. An engineer? If they were poor, black and from an inner city I would see the point. As they aren't, and on average will make 20% more than my kids, I don't. It seems to me that Ms. Wang is actually rather privileged, flying back and forth to Hawaii all the time. Then out of the blue Wang brings Leonard Pitts into the discussion. Some specious argument about naive white mothers not realizing their children's natural (if un-taught that is) bias toward blacks! (In my experience whites are far more likely to associate with and befriend blacks than Asians are. Pot meet kettle.) Pitts is someone who sees racism 24/7 and devotes most of his columns to Identifying anyone who criticizes the President as being racist, because in his mind it is the only possible motive! worse than that he is a first class race baiter and loves to incite his readers. When a young white couple was raped, tortured and murdered by five black thugs, Pitts wrote in his column: "I am... unkindly disposed toward the crackpots, incendiaries and flat-out racists who have chosen this tragedy upon which to take an obscene and ludicrous stand. I have four words for them and any other white Americans who feel themselves similarly victimized: Cry me a river." How does that sit with you. Fine with that? It's certainly more provocative than a few incensed comments on There is something that we can both agree on from your column: "Racism is not just white guys wearing white hoods." Believe it.


Mon, May 31, 2010 : 7:12 p.m.

The deficiency shows up in schools, where testing shows a quantifiable difference. However, the gap starts much earlier than when the schools become involved. Many here have argued, and I agree, that these kids show up to school hamstrung by cultural, socio-economic conditions irrespective of race. To expect the school to bear the brunt of correcting this is akin to pushing a string. The schools are there to teach, not to bridge cultural, economic gaps. That task is meant for society as a whole to address, and tasking the schools with this is innapropriate, and will never work.


Mon, May 31, 2010 : 4:34 p.m.

Thank you Frances - your article clears away the muck that surfaced from all of this. It's always been a tactic to take a harsh stand on something of conjecture. The issue is the gap. The issue is the gap.


Mon, May 31, 2010 : 2:33 p.m.

Blacks and Whites from the same economic backgrounds score differently. White and Asians from the same economic background also score differently. Could this be less about what happens at school and more about what happens at home? I note that Ms. Wang states that SHE (not the school) took her children to see the Chinese scientist and the female scientist.

Attempted Voice of Reason

Mon, May 31, 2010 : 2:27 p.m.

Easy question to answer: The economic student achievement gap is a major problem across the US and the world, that is extremely difficult to correct. AAPS is doing what they can to minimize this problem, but there are a huge number of factors outside of AAPS' control. Offering special programs for or discrimnating against students on the basis of race is illegal. AAPS chooses to ignore this law, and people are rightfully angry. The validity of this law has been confirmed by the US Supreme Court, and is not in dispute. AAPS can offer special programs based upon family income or current grades. At the moment these would disproportionately benefit students of color, which is OK. By basing programs on income or grades, it targets those who need it the most, regardless of color.


Mon, May 31, 2010 : 2:13 p.m.

This is an interesting topic coming from an Asian point of view. Looking at 2009 MME scores in Math, Asians way out scored any other racial group. Overall, the group that had the very lowest scores was special education. Economically disadvantaged and African American were within a point of each other. Hispanics and Middle Easterners were in the middle. If there is discriminatin based on race, why are Asians doing so well academically and African Americans doing so poorly? Who is discriminating against whom?


Mon, May 31, 2010 : 11:35 a.m.

"(AP) The United States is losing ground in education, as peers across the globe zoom by with bigger gains in student achievement and school graduations, a study shows. Among adults age 25 to 34, the U.S. is ninth among industrialized nations in the share of its population that has at least a high school degree. In the same age group, the United States ranks seventh, with Belgium, in the share of people who hold a college degree." This is the real achievement our education system falls apart our opportunities as a country and individuals will decline..


Mon, May 31, 2010 : 10:56 a.m.

Ms. Wang - Thank you for your article. I appreciate it. As to the anger of the posters, part of it was the illegal actions taken by the school. It is NOT ok to create a group within the school system based purely on race. This having been said, there are lots of legal methods that SHOULD be used to provide help to people who are not achieving what they should. Keeping children back to learn, early in the career was a routine thing 40 years ago. If you did not make progress, you did not advance. This went away when we tried to make self esteem important, in fact more important than learning. 40 years ago, teachers sought out parents of struggling children and helped them help their children. We can and should segment children by ability during reading and math periods, across age and grades. The lower the grade level the smaller the ratio of children to teachers should be. Take the children doing really well and send them to the library in mass to read during reading time (supervised of course) and on some days let them go out to play during reading time (this is an incentive that others will want to earn). Use starting reading and math scores for children and ending scores for the year determine the progress they made and have that inform the administration on how the program did during the school year (and how the teachers did at helping children learn). Let's get the universities to take 4th graders for a month during the summer that are not making progress, hire undergraduates who want to be teachers to work in very small groups with the children and live in the dorms with them, provide them with a month of different home life, and see if that helps. Provide regular parenting classes for single parents with child care during the classes and for 2 hours after the class - that provides an incentive for the parents to attend and gives them time to do something they want to do after. If a parent goes to prison for any reason, test their reading and math scores and make raising them if they are not at 6th grade level a requirement to get their children back when they get out. Teach parenting to those parents as well. This would be a useful thing to do while people are serving their time. These are just a few ideas that could help close the gap between any child who is not achieving and any who is. It also provides an ability to allow children who are doing well to keep doing well. Race, color, gender, nationality are NOT important, each child is important and providing the child the environment to achieve in is important. Any one who wants to use grouping metrics to sort children is doing it wrong - each child should be sorted based on their individual needs.


Mon, May 31, 2010 : 10:41 a.m.

Hell is paved with good intentions. What is important is that there are under-performing kids who need remediation. The pop sociology and psychobabble do not solve the problem. These kids need individual ACADEMIC assistance (tutoring), not entertainment to make them feel good about their underachievement. AAPS should concentrate on teaching them more effectively, not waste money on elaborate programs that may be well-meaning and make their proponents feel virtuous but that have nothing to do with academics.


Mon, May 31, 2010 : 10:39 a.m.

When you exclude others based on their skin color or heritage thats racism. It was racism in 1960 when lunch counters read " Whites Only". Its was racism in the 1920s & 1930s when its acceptable to deny jobs and housing to Irish, German, Italian or Polish immigrants and its racism today when school sponsored clubs say " African-American Only". As far as the achievement gap, that gap was started at home and will never close until a parent closes the gap.


Mon, May 31, 2010 : 8:59 a.m.

This was a thoughtful column and I appreciate it. I can see your struggle. I have read the comments here and I troubled by them as well but possibly not for the same reasons. First: I am not convinced that our schools cause the achievement gap. They can measure it. So making our schools try to solve something that they didn't cause dooms us, and our children, but I don't think our schools can solve the problem. Wrong tools. Highly constructed arguments on all sides, none of these broad brush arguments ring true to me. Second: I am having a problem with the clear indications about what ALL of the students at that school learned about race. They apparently learned that you an be separated by race, some can get special treatment based on just your race(presumably because the black kids needed the extra help) and if you BOO, the principal (who is the same race as those who got the special field trip) will come into your classroom and berate you about it. I cannot discount the unequal treatment, unequal opportunity and illegal implementation of what could have a wonderful experience for many.

Macabre Sunset

Mon, May 31, 2010 : 1:44 a.m.

[quote](MIPFS) We must confront the fact that, according to national data, blacks and whites at the same family income levels still perform differently in school. This is one of the shadows cast by racism.[/quote] Prove it, Steve. It could well be a shadow cast by other causes. [quote](MIPFS) Where I grew up, I heard this kind of argument too: "why should we suffer for what people did back then?" Funny, but I heard this most from the white kids whose parents were fighting hard to keep people with dark skins out of their country clubs. Not very long ago.[/quote] Good straw-man, Steve. A big *Plonk* to your group. Can't exactly take a group seriously whose leader is an expert race-baiter.

Amy Dittmar

Sun, May 30, 2010 : 11:20 p.m.

Thank you Frances. You put in words what I think (hope) many people are thinking. Beyond the legal issues and beyond what is 'right' for a public institution, there lies an important issue and one person's attempt to help address it. The attempt may have had its flaws but the issue remains important. Your article helped bring that back to the surface.


Sun, May 30, 2010 : 10:50 p.m.

@steven norton: below is an article about the Rising Scholars Program, you can also go to their website. It is a program to take students, who are overwhelmingly African-American, with very low grade points, and get them so much better in school that they can go to "University of Michigan or other Ivy League universities..." (their words). As good of an idea as it may be, it may be illegal, in the same way the Dicken program was illegal, as it appears to be racially based, regardless of how they try to couch it. Between the U-M and the Ann Arbor public schools, they just can't seem to get this nondiscrimination thing right. But I hope they don't waste millions in legal fees trying to prove it's not a racially based program, which would make it illegal.

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Sun, May 30, 2010 : 10:01 p.m.

@josber, I don't "see race, and then say we have to remediate." I see, and we all should see, the legacy of a terrible injustice. That calls for a remedy. The cartoon version of efforts at a remedy that is so often put forward is simply a straw man, distracting from the real issue. The injustice was real, its effects are still with us, and we have an obligation to right the wrongs that were done for so many generations. I grew up in a city where race mattered - and still matters. It defined employment prospects, housing patterns, police, fire and ambulance response times, school districts, and so many other things. To say "see no race" is a lot like saying "see no evil." It's not an attempt at fairness, it's an attempt to pretend that the injustice is consigned to the history books. The issue remains; what will we as a community do about it? Where I differ from some is that I do not think this is an issue to be addressed only with children of color. We all need to have the open conversation then-candidate Obama described in his speech on race two years ago. Pretending it is not there does not make the issue go away. To heal, we also need to acknowledge both the past and the realities of the present. You also assert: "It is not real that AAPS is breaking the achievement gap." Do you really think that expulsions are so common that they tilt elementary-school test data? Never let the facts get in the way of a good story, I guess. @annarbor28, I did read that comment, and I was puzzled then. You will forgive me if I do not rely on anonymous posts here for my information. In any case, I most seriously doubt that AAPS is putting up money to send anyone to Africa. AAPS doesn't even pay for transportation for our kids' field trips anymore. But is that really a fair appraisal of the intent and implementation of the program? Is that all that it's about, a trip to Africa? What happens in the first four years? The bottom line is that most people who reject the notion that race has any effect on poverty or achievement do so because they so badly want to believe that everyone gets what they deserve. That's the foundation of the "personal responsibility" argument. Of course, the flip side of "the poor are only poor because they are lazy" is that "whatever I've got, I've earned by myself and I owe nothing to anybody." To admit that some people have had to struggle more is to admit that others have had to struggle less. It's sad, because there is so much potential in working together to make life even better for everybody.


Sun, May 30, 2010 : 8:48 p.m.

@steve norton: The following was written by Dr. I Emsayin and it is, in fact, the featured post on the home page linking to this article, and is a post above. It cites a program in the A2 High Schools that culminates in a trip to Africa. Please see below. As far as racially based programs, that has to do with equal opportunity for all, and for not favoring some races over others. It is not legal to do this in Michigan. It appears that the A2 Public School System did this at Dicken, and it appears that this may be happening in the 3 A2 High Schools with the program described by Dr. I Emsayin. This is not fair to other groups, and hopefully this program will now be examined also as to discrimination. Following is from the post by Dr. I Emsayin: "Huron High School, Skyline High School and Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor has a program called Rising Scholars comprised of 9th grade students of varying ethnic backgrounds who all have a particular profile entering 9th grade. This group of 16 students at each school have a number of paid teaching staff and mentors working with them to maintain good achievement so they will be eligible to attend The University of Michigan after they complete high school. The University of Michigan is also helping in this endeavor. During their final year of high school this group of students will take a field trip to Africa. The Ann Arbor Public Schools in conjunction with the University of Michigan feels this endeavor is worth putting hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars into in order to help close the achievement gap. The gap is not just a black/white gap. Most of the students in the program are male and black, but there are females and students of other heritage as well."


Sun, May 30, 2010 : 8:37 p.m.

I think what is so off about Steve Norton's comments is that he sees race, and thinks, we have to remediate. Goodness. First see no race. Then teach. You're not there yet Steve. If every time you see a black kid, you think I have to do something extra, because you know they are black, and first there was slavery, and then Jim Crow and then AAPS, you are shorting those kids, shorting all the kids. It is not real that AAPS is breaking the achievement gap. They are having trouble with disporportionality and with suspensions and expulsions. So if you remove the kids with more trouble, are then the numbers are looking better?

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Sun, May 30, 2010 : 8:27 p.m.

@Anonymous, Well, I am very pleased to judge your ideas on their own merit, or the lack of same. You say: "You really can't promote some idea that people need special help based on race without also promoting the idea that it's because that race is inferior." That's a false choice you've set up. We know that how well people do in life is based not just on their immediate family, but on the background their own parents had, and so on. Economic equality does not occur in one generation. And that is assuming racism is gone, which it simply is not. (And I don't mean the false version described here, but the real racism where some people are discounted, locked out, presumed guilty, and presumed inferior because of their skin color or cultural heritage.) The issue isn't potential, it is whether our society is structured to give each child the opportunity to fulfill their own. We can do better. Yes, family socio-economic status is critical (i.e. poverty), but the largest determinant of adult earnings is family educational attainment. You are talking about the accumulation of years of opportunity, or lack of it. The "proximate cause" of the achievement gap may mostly be poverty, but poverty isn't random. Nor is it a sign of laziness. And the solutions will be different for each child, and each group of children who share a common experience. This isn't entirely my field, but I strongly suspect you will be handed a wealth of studies that describe precisely this thing. Just because some other participant on this blog doesn't have the academic studies ready does not mean they don't exist. @annarbor28 I don't know about any trip to Africa, if it exists, but I assure you that nothing like that is paid for by the district. But your description of "racially-based perk" shows your approach to this issue. It's not a perk if we are still trying to remedy centuries of slavery and legal discrimination and oppression. Where I grew up, I heard this kind of argument too: "why should we suffer for what people did back then?" Funny, but I heard this most from the white kids whose parents were fighting hard to keep people with dark skins out of their country clubs. Not very long ago.


Sun, May 30, 2010 : 7:26 p.m.

You say that the achievement gap cuts across socioeconomic lines. Are you implying that even middle class and upper class blacks have greater learning problems, so that this is inherent to race, not poverty? This is pretty shaky ground, especially for one who bills herself as a "multicultural expert". In fact, it sounds like racism. For those students at the various Ann Arbor High Schools in the special program designed to get more underachieving students into U-M: can we afford this program when programs are being cut and teachers fired? Why do they get a trip to Africa? Shouldn't that money be spent on teacher retention, and programs for all students? Sounds like another A2 racially-based perk to me. Legal???

Anonymous Due to Bigotry

Sun, May 30, 2010 : 6:37 p.m.

@Steve Norton Show me a study that demonstrates in a statistical manner that this achievement gap can be explained by racism or racial discrimination. The problem is that your hypothesis, and that of most of public education it seems, doesn't have any scientific foundation. But that's not surprising given that the "self esteem" training in schools had no scientific foundation either. The solution to racial discrimination is never going to be more racial discrimination! Racial discrimination breeds more racial discrimination. If the achievement gap can be shown to have anything to do with racial discrimination then the solution is to get rid of the racial discrimination, not create more racial discrimination! The issue of ending *all* racial discrimination is much more important this white-guilt-driven obsession with one specific racial achievement gap. The gap will take care of itself when people stop being politically enslaved by the idea that they have no chance in life due to discrimination and that racial discrimination can be compensated for with more racial discrimination, especially when the assumed negative discrimination has not been scientifically measured. I really don't know how to get this through to people with this guilt-driven fuzzy thinking. It's probably hopeless. BTW, my username is Anonymous Due To Bigotry because I am a victim of bigotry due to promoting these ideas of "positive" racial discrimination. You really can't promote some idea that people need special help based on race without also promoting the idea that it's because that race is inferior. I don't want any special treatment because way too many people, whether you like it or not, are going to assume that it's justified by racial inferiority. So I don't want anyone to know what race I am because I want to be judged based on the logic and meaning of what I say, not by what color my skin is.

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Sun, May 30, 2010 : 6:04 p.m.

I'm sorry, but I feel I have to respond to some of the nonsense I'm reading. Ms. Wang's article is a thoughtful exploration of this topic, and I am glad she felt able to write this despite the current atmosphere. As to the rest, well: acknowledging the need for a remedy does not make one a "racist." We must confront the fact that, according to national data, blacks and whites at the same family income levels still perform differently in school. This is one of the shadows cast by racism. Is family income a huge factor? Of course it is, and indeed most targeted programs in our schools are focused on students "at risk," which in large part means students of low income. But can you really pretend that race and poverty have nothing to do with each other? If one community has had doors closed and economic opportunities cut off for generations, do you really think that all that will come out in the wash in a mere forty years? Yes, there has been change, and yes, every individual is different, but on the whole, we still have a long way to go. It simply is not sufficient to claim that, now that discriminatory practices against minorities are illegal, everything should be fine and everyone has the same opportunities. In fact, it's dead wrong. As to our schools: they have been making concerted efforts for years, and in particular have embarked on a whole package of curriculum changes which are aimed at making sure they can reach every child. These changes really kicked in at the elementary level five or six years ago, so that we are just now seeing the first cohorts to have had this since first grade moving into the middle schools. The testing data, limited though it is, supports the effectiveness of the changes AAPS has made. Lastly, we need to acknowledge that the data are limited. For smaller minority groups, such as the Native Americans mentioned above, the numbers are so small that you can't make meaningful comparisons with test scores. Measures of poverty are blunt instruments as well: the district knows which families qualify for free or reduced price lunch, but that's all. That means that their measure of family income boils down to one or two income cut-offs which are pretty low. But they can't tell the difference between a child from a family bringing home $200,000 a year and one from a two-income family earning $42,000 a year. (The cutoff for the reduced-price lunch is just under $41,000 for a family of four.)

Anonymous Due to Bigotry

Sun, May 30, 2010 : 2:51 p.m.

The other thing that I find bizarre is that years ago there was this idea that we should do away with "tracking" which is the process of placing students of different intelligence/achievement levels in different tracks of classes where the ones who seem less capable end up in less advanced classes and the ones who seem more capable end up in more advanced classes. It was determined that there were problems with this such as: 1) supposedly less capable students were given the message "you're less capable so we expect less from you". 2) the supposedly less capable students we never around the more capable ones and thus didn't become inspired or otherwise benefit from being around higher achievers. What the heck happened to this theory? We seem to not only be going back on this idea, but now the criteria for "less capable" is being determined based purely on race. So now we're not just telling some kids "you're less capable and thus we can't expect much from you" and in addition telling them "you're less capable because you're black and thus we can't expect much from you". I can't believe that people are OK with this. I can only attribute it to poor fuzzy thinking and a lot of white guilt that's being compensated for in an incredibly dysfunctional manner. The only way for some people to deal with their white guilt seems to be to create a "coloreds only" water fountain that's cleaner and fancier than the "hispanics only", "whites only" etc water fountains.


Sun, May 30, 2010 : 2:49 p.m.

I am bothered by racists. All racists see being racist as doing 'good'. This is not about helping the under privileged. The largest achievement gap AAPS measures is between Asians and Native Americans. If we were really concerned about the achievement gap why are we not concerned the gap between Asian and Native Americans? It is because this is racism, veiled as 'good' racism and not about achievement. Defenders of these policies are just academic racists. There arent good racists and bad racists, they are all bad. Shame on you racists who seek a new plantation.

Anonymous Due to Bigotry

Sun, May 30, 2010 : 2:29 p.m.

The fact is, Ms. Wang, that it doesn't matter if the "coloreds only" water fountain is cleaner and in nicer shape than the "whites only" water fountain. The problem is that you have two race-specific water fountains at all! There's no reason for it! The other problem is that assuming that someone is a less intelligent underachiever simply because they're black is clearly racist. The definition of racism is a belief in racial superiority or inferiority, independent of whether you're actually treating people differently based on race. This idea that black people have trouble learning is very clearly a belief in black racial inferiority. If you believe in any sort of racial superiority or inferiority than that belief is racist. Take the following two statements, neither of which I believe in: 1) Black people are inferior so we need to help them more. 2) Black people are inferior so they should go back to Africa. You seem to believe that #1 is a perfectly valid statement because it involves helping people even though both of these statements are predicated on the idea that black people are inferior simply because they're black! I'd be angry about the achievement gap if it were actually a product of some sort of injustice, but I fail to see how this injustice is occurring. Instead I'm angry about the blatant racism that's occurring in the public educational system! MLK would be incredibly ashamed of the way we're descending back into this sort of logic. The fact is that helping all underachieving students regardless of ethnicity will close the "gap"! We don't even need racist segregationist policies to address the issue!

sandra awood

Sun, May 30, 2010 : 2:15 p.m.

I think this is a thoughtful column that can help us focus on a problem rather than blaming: "the achievement gap is wrong. Listen" At this point in history, rhetoric matters less than what we choose to do to correct a problem, how we choose to spend our resources so that we have an educated populace - which is in the best interest of everyone. what about creating a magnet school for underachieving kids? Would this make sense? Seems AA has spent a lot of money through the years on consultants, plans, & incremental/supplemental changes. The results demonstrate the inadequacy of these efforts. Maybe we need a major change in focus, modeled perhaps after KIPP or UYA, (The University YES Academy) in Detroit? Wouldn't it be worth a try? Would the AA community support such a school, or would we choose to the status quo - & more talk & plans & consultants ad infinitum?

Macabre Sunset

Sun, May 30, 2010 : 12:41 p.m.

It's sad that racial dialogue in this country has been reduced to the following: "You're a subtle racist." "No, you're a subtle racist." When small children fail to achieve despite attending the same schools, mostly led by minority administrations, at what point do we stop blaming the system and start blaming the people who those small children spend most of their time with when they're not in school. The solution to any "gap" does not rest within the walls of any school. It rests within the walls of your own home.


Sun, May 30, 2010 : 12:32 p.m.

Compare scholastic achievement between children of Hetrosexual married couples and those of "non-traditional" households. I think the "achievement" gap is more about nurture than nature. That puts the responsibility on the parents, which the author has choosen to adress by the way she is raising her children.


Sun, May 30, 2010 : 12:24 p.m.

It would help if we stopped teaching Afro-centrist garbage in schools. Teaching 6 year olds that mean old whitey has stacked the deck against them discourages effort on productive tasks and encourages it on counterproductive ones, the ethnic grievances industry for instance. Ignore skin pigmentation, help any child who's falling behind and don't neglect any gifted students you find along the way. Push every student as hard as you can and see where they can go. Teaching tribalism is wrong no matter how you dress it up.

Me Next

Sun, May 30, 2010 : 10:54 a.m.

I disagree. With a great grandma slave, I can claim "victim" with anyone. Color of one's skin does not matter in this Government engineered gaps & ceilings. @ 500in congress, @450 in the House - tell me only about 13 1/3 million legal citizens have a right to the Lawful one Rep in House for every 30 thousand lawful citizens. Last I found was @ 180 million in our workforce & @ 380 million at large. District representation is not representing us & not Constitutional. A Reasonable Federal Consumer Tax & specify income tax for all citizens who profit more than $5 million. Re-investment in private sector jobs would be legitimate deduction from "Profit". Taxing "Charities' Overhead spending" is another Fair taxing power. Bottom line the color held down deliberately is green which includes all races & cultures. Of Lawful Citizens, poor whites are the majority, then mixed, then black, then of Spanish descent. Who benefits? Who has benefited? Only Government. They grow the excuse to steal, they live like royals while spending stolen money in ways that never solve problems just grow them. By now every lawful citizen should have by themselves own a home & afford to support their family without Gov. I don't care about Party but a common Policy steals & punishes Independence & that is Criminal. We are just finding out how Statutory Laws have been building a Ruling class of the few & everyone else slaves.


Sun, May 30, 2010 : 10:43 a.m.

After reading about the achievement gap problem I was/am under the impression the gap is more poverty driven that by race. If the property issues are solved then the achievement gap will improve. The Principal's attempt was right issue, wrong solution ( in fact illegal).


Sun, May 30, 2010 : 9:02 a.m.

I agree 100% with this article. We should ALWAYS make a concerted effort to close any achievement gap where race is an issue, no matter what it takes. If it means singling out a specific race for added attention, then I suppose the ends justifies the means. Therefore I propose taxpayer funds be earmarked for fieldtrips to the proposed Larry Bird museum in French Lick, Indiana for white students seeking to close the achievement gap in basketball.


Sun, May 30, 2010 : 8:57 a.m.

why such anger? a school official used race as a determinant for student participation in a sanctioned activity. that's the bottom line. inexcusable AND illegal.


Sun, May 30, 2010 : 8:18 a.m.

24 ir 35 years? Maybe that's how long we've been measuring it, but it's been around a tad bit longer than that.


Sun, May 30, 2010 : 8:05 a.m.

This column articulates very nicely an issue that troubles me as well.

Lisa Pearson

Sun, May 30, 2010 : 7:44 a.m.

As a white woman who lives in, sees and perceives two worlds, I also felt deep pain reading the majority of comments after each article.

Dr. I. Emsayin

Sun, May 30, 2010 : 7:42 a.m.

Huron High School, Skyline High School and Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor has a program called Rising Scholars comprised of 9th grade students of varying ethnic backgrounds who all have a particular profile entering 9th grade. This group of 16 students at each school have a number of paid teaching staff and mentors working with them to maintain good achievement so they will be eligible to attend The University of Michigan after they complete high school. The University of Michigan is also helping in this endeavor. During their final year of high school this group of students will take a field trip to Africa. The Ann Arbor Public Schools in conjunction with the University of Michigan feels this endeavor is worth putting hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars into in order to help close the achievement gap. The gap is not just a black/white gap. Most of the students in the program are male and black, but there are females and students of other heritage as well. If this program succeeds, we will know that having dedicated, paid teachers, counselors, and university mentors can help disadvantaged students earn their place at The University of Michigan. It seems that the elementary school field trip for African American students might be the precursor to this high school program. Don't we care that certain students whose families may not have been able to provide lots of opportunity be given the opportunity to succeed to their potential? Do we want a strong, diverse group of people in the top jobs in society, or do we want the people with privilege to continue having all of the opportunity?

Craig Lounsbury

Sun, May 30, 2010 : 7:39 a.m.

"understand that there were some problems with implementation, and I know things are different for public institutions. I am not discounting that." Actually you are discounting that as it was the whole crux of the controversy in this situation.


Sun, May 30, 2010 : 7:03 a.m.

I don't think using policies that divide children based on race is the solution to the achievement gap. I also find it strange that Asian Americans are being discriminated against in college admission and nobody is screaming. Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade, who reviewed data from 10 elite colleges, writes in No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal that Asian applicants typically need an extra 140 points to compete with white students. In fact, according to Princeton lecturer Russell Nieli, there may be an Asian ceiling at Princeton, a number above which the admissions office refuses to venture." I don't see why some people should be rewarded based on their ethnicity and other people should be punished by it.


Sun, May 30, 2010 : 6:20 a.m.

There are many achievment gaps. Is this one really based upon race? Is it based upon a lack of race specific role models? Have you heard the saying "there are lies, there are damnable lies and there are statistics"? I am pretty sure that you could find a similar gap associated with socio-economic status. There are probably cultural based acheivment gaps. When you run statistics there may be many unexpected associations but they do not prove causation. The school might have grouped the kids by actual acheivment rather than by race but then the group may have faced discrimination as the "dumb kids". In this case the kids were grouped by race and the other kids resented it. This might be the basis of future discrimination based upon this resentment. The point has been made in previous blogs that it is valuable for all kids to see a successful black rocket scientist. Should only black kids know that blacks can be exceptional acheivers in life? Then there is the issue of how the Principal handled the situation when the other kids expressed their displeasure by booing the returning students. The Principal should have been more humble and learned from his mistake rather than blaming the other kids for their perfectly understandable resentment. There is nothing wrong with teaching your children to be proud of their heritage. That is good parenting but the role of the school in such teaching is very complicated because it can easily turn into an unintended lesson.