Letter: Phrase “Wrong Side of the Achievement Gap” Sends Wrong Message

in Letters/Topic: Education

Unfortunately, the debate between opponents and proponents of the CSUS consolidation plan resulted in the use of language that paid homage to a very traditional genuflection to ‘blame the victims.’   In this instance, the victims are the students in the CSCU system who were referred to as having come from the ‘wrong side of the achievement gap’ in the article, As Labor Leaders Gather on Friday in Hartford, Faculty and Administrators Debate Consolidation of Community Colleges Across Connecticut,”  published March 6, 2020. 

The value-laden and scornful phrase, “wrong side of the achievement gap,” sends the wrong message.  As a faculty member in the CSUS system, I was stunned and appalled. The students referred to in this manner, I teach, advise, and consul in my capacity as an African American woman professor in the department of political science, African American Studies, Latin American and African Studies programs at Central Connecticut State University, New Britain.

Yes, many students have seemingly insurmountable challenges, both academic and personal.  But, their efforts to overcome and contend with their challenges should not go unnoticed or unappreciated.  Some succeed quickly, once they are put on the right track and seek assistance to compensate for the skills gaps, they unfairly acquired in their K-12 experiences due to the structural inequality in Connecticut’s system of public education.  Others may not succeed as quickly and decide to make other career or educational decisions.

While in the full context of the article, it may not have been the intent to insult or belittle the challenges facing many of Connecticut’s students, nonetheless, the impact of the language is devastating.  The language, “wrong side of the achievement gap,” alludes to derogatory and scornful class, racial and ethnic value judgments about the inherent ‘quality’ of students who should be given many accolades for seeking access to quality higher education.

Great care should be taken not to dash the self-perceptions and ambitions of the very students whose greatest interests, educational futures, and successes, regardless of which side of the CSUS consolidation plan debate one may take.

Great care should be taken not to blame the victims of systemic and structural inequalities that produce the abhorrent “achievement gap.”  A gap that the victims are not responsible for closing on their own.

Walton Brown-Foster, PhD
Bloomfield, CT