Mica Pollock is an Associate Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Building on her experience investigating claims of discrimination in schools at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, Dr. Pollock studies how youth and adults struggle daily to discuss and address issues of racial difference, discrimination, and fairness in school and community settings.
A fundamental debate erupts whenever U.S. educators discuss “achievement gaps.” Do educators’ everyday actions really contribute that much to racial disparities? Or are such disparities caused by parents, by peers, by “society,” by “poverty,” by children themselves?
We need to get much better at discussing this issue in education. As I have shown in my research, simplistic debate over who is “to blame” for “achievement gaps” often keeps us from adequately serving children of color in particular. For example, when people argue that disparities are caused solely by particular players (e.g., “parents”), they miss out on potential collaborations that would support student success. When people relentlessly blame actors other than themselves for student outcomes, they fail to figure out which of their own actions might assist children better.