Reframing the Educational "Achievement Gap," Accountability and Standards: Problems and Solutions

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As a Black man, ex-inner-city public high school teacher (ten years), and current doctoral student, I am appalled at how “accountability” and “standards” based policies have perverted public education, busted teacher morale, and boosted drop out rates among students of color. These policies, which ostensibly attempt to address the problems of racial inequality and school accountability by forcing public schools to reduce the “achievement gap” (e.g. between blacks and whites and the U.S. and other countries) as measured by standardized test scores, are both part of and perpetuate the problems.

The approach underlying these policies has been framed as white supremacy by Bonilla-Silva (2001), Ladson-Billings (1995) and many other scholars. Engaging what Schon and Rein have called “frame restructuring” (1994, 1996), I will problematize white supremacy, analyzing how its racial profiling of the “academic achievement” gap between blacks and whites (e.g. Thernstrom and Thernstrom, 2003) and focus on “accountability” and “standards” has disadvantaged certain groups of color in particular as well as public school teachers as a class of professionals.

I will also examine how it has placed the onus on public school teachers (and blacks) to eliminate the gap within a feedback loop that reproduces and exacerbates it. I will then propose a counter-hegemonic framing to the problem as well as culturally responsive policy approaches based on insights gleaned from my experience both teaching social studies in an 85% black, inner-city high school in Oakland, Ca. and as chairperson of its State-mandated reform committees.


Keywords: Achievement Gap, White Supremacy, Implicit Bias, Framing, Accountability, Standards, Transformational Change, Social Movements
Stream: Education and Social Welfare
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Ronald Robinson Robinson

PhD Student, Department of Sociology, University of California Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, CA, USA

After a 15 year career as an executive in the commercial real estate business, I decided to return to my social justice roots and for ten years taught social science in various inner city public high schools. Eventually, I was selected by my peers to become the chairperson of the State of California mandated school reform committees. Both as a teacher and committee chairperson I developed and implemented transformative and culturally responsive interventions that led to increased school performance and satisfaction among my students who were overwhelmingly poor and of color. These experiences led me to pursue doctoral studies to enable me to more effectively codify these interventions and design practices that can be more widely disseminated. They also led me to situate my sociological studies within the emerging field of Social and Cultural Neuroscience since I am interested in the transformation of both the individual and social brain as well as society. I graduated from Cornell in 1978 and received master degrees in both Civil Engineering and Urban Studies from MIT. I taught myself piano and created and am using a novel methodology to study the effects on my brain of pursuing formal music training.

Ref: I08P0506