One of the reasons for persistent racial achievement gaps in our schools is differences between what leaders and teachers believe to be the achievement potential of White students and students of color. Rhetoric espousing belief that all children can learn at high levels can be heard in every school and school district in America. That rhetoric, unfortunately, does not yet match reality. There remain school leaders and teachers who believe Black and/or Latino students are incapable of learning at the same levels as White children.
Leaders’ and teachers’ disbelief in the potential of students of color rarely looks like blatant racism. It rarely sounds like leaders and educators saying to students of color that they are less academically capable than their White counterparts (although that does still happen in some limited instances). Nevertheless, their disbelief is unmistakable.
But in 2015, that disbelief most often manifests itself as failure to challenge students of color to meet the same rigorous academic standards that they expect White students to meet or exceed. Their disbelief looks like hard and soft sorting mechanisms that systematically channel students of color into tracks that will limit their academic and profession. That disbelief looks like allowing students of color to decide whether they will or will not work in class that day/semester/year. That disbelief looks like coddling students of color rather than challenging them to achieve academically at high levels. That disbelief looks like pushing students of color to the absolute limit of their abilities on the athletic field, while challenging them to do little more than show up to the academic classroom. That disbelief looks like failure to challenge colleagues and administrators who write and implement policies that perpetuate the status quo for students of color in schools and institutions of higher education.
While leaders’ and teachers’ disbelief in the academic potential of students of color is different from calling them racially insensitive names or preventing them from enrolling in predominantly White schools and institutions, it is just as dangerous as the blatantly racist actions of the past. And that continued disbelief in the academic potential of children of color is partly responsible for the racial achievement gaps that persist in America’s schools.