• Rajah E. Smart, Ed.D.

Excerpt from Upcoming Book: Defining Success for Black Kids Versus Comparing to White Kids

Introduction


Think back to the first research course ever taken and remember if hearing never compare apples to oranges due to their innate differences when it’s been done several times in terms of taste and caloric make-up. The point of the phrase is to consider the difference of variables before comparing causation with a focus on performing the same. A statement from the Library Research Service (n.d.) sums it best by indicating:

As our brains process information, we constantly make comparisons. It’s how we decide if something is good or bad—by it being better or worse than something else. However, like apples and oranges, not all things can readily be compared, even if they appear similar on the surface. We often make this mistake with data because we want to be able to draw simple conclusions. But when our goal is accurate information, it’s imperative to look at presentations of data through a critical lens by applying basic strategies (lrs.org).


Given the explanation, why is there a continual comparison of Black and White children, especially given the cultural, socio-emotional, environmental, economic, racial trauma, and opportunity, or lack thereof (Jernigan & Daniel, 2011) differences? Creswell et al. (2017) indicate that any tests of statistical significance are used to compare the mean of the baseline and the treatment phases. Can Black children be compared to White, given the independent variables will differ? If to determine the differences in content absorption, the comparison makes sense. However, to expect Black children to meet a benchmark or threshold is counterproductive due to the differences. This concept doesn’t mean Black children can’t be as smart as White children. It means the lens of success set is one developed for one size fits all and does not consider the variables that will always impact the outcome.

Some time ago, during undergraduate studies, Brookings released an article discussing the persistence of the achievement gap between Black and White students (Jencks & Phillips, 1998). The present at times emulates the past, especially when considering the education of Black students and this continued expectation to perform similarly to their counterparts when policies, practices, and laws have been impacted by discriminatory, colorblind, and racist policies (Gill et al., 2016). The article indicated:


Traditional explanations for the black-white test score gap have not stood up well to the test of time. During the 1960s, most liberals blamed the gap on some combination of black poverty, racial segregation, and inadequate funding for black schools. Since then, the number of affluent black families has grown dramatically, but their children’s test scores still lag far behind those of white children from equally affluent families. School desegregation may have played some role in reducing the black-white test score gap in the South, but school desegregation also seems to have costs for blacks, and when we compare initially similar students in today’s schools, those who attend desegregated schools learn only slightly more than those in segregated schools.


Given the various data and research on the adverse impact of variables such as poverty on the performance of Black students on assessments to measure success, it may be time to define success for Black students. As a student who failed to progress to the third grade and struggled through grade school, the threshold of success seemed low. Years later and various degrees and books completed, am I an exception, or does that example fit within the White version of success?


The term success is different for each individual, which is even more prevalent for Black students depending on the locale (urban, suburban, rural, and town). Within those locales, Black folks are not monolithic by design. It is possible to dig deeper and understand that success is defined by rules within the culture and rules within each household. Reality television and news media have folks gassed regarding the reality of Black folks and what success means. Not all Black folks want to be sports stars, college graduates, or rappers. Seeking to define the term success for Black students compared to White doesn’t adequately capture their experience and asserts that, as a culture, Black folks should conform to what White folks deem successful.


Various classmates return at a high school reunion; some are college graduates, entrepreneurs, customer service associates, factory workers, social service workers, teachers, and more. Is any one person more successful than the other? No. Success is measured differently within the culture and in the home. If someone chooses to be an entrepreneur, is that person less successful than a college graduate? The entrepreneur saved money, bought a t-shirt press to print t-shirts, and sells them at local functions for $28.00 when only paying


Black communities historically suffer from information and environmental deficit (Clary, 2019) but are expected (indirectly as the policy doesn’t support black achievement) to live and perform like their White counterparts. The argument for success should be more for progression or that Black students progress despite challenging conditions with an expectation to achieve--encompassing their “success.” Progression is moving forward despite federal, state, and local policies that are inequitable and have a history of racism/discrimination. The argument is not referring to grit when discussing Black students. It’s clear that Black students possess resiliency or resilience in the context of real or perceived adversity (Rodgers, 2015).


Smart, R. (2023). Defining Success for Black Kids Without Comparing to White Kids.

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