Literacy Matters Vol 24 Winter 2024

Challenges in Literacy Achievement: Exploring Factors Impacting Black Students in U.S. Schools

by Dr. RoKami Gillette and Dr. Candace Pattman

prevailing cognitive paradigm designed to serve the interests of power and control, thereby restricting and marginalizing alternative modes of thought and cultural identity beyond those aligned with the dominant group. Consequently, this exclusionary construct has perpetuated power differentials between white individuals and diverse communities of People of Color. Dumas and Ross (2016) elucidate the normalization of whiteness as an “entitlement, a birthright that is enjoyed and repeatedly capitalized upon” by white individuals (p. 421). Interestingly, despite this historical backdrop, an increasing proportion of the U.S. public school population now comprises culturally, linguistically, and racially diverse students, constituting approximately one-third of the total student body (Ladson Billings, 2005). Furthermore, in the largest 25 cities in the United States, students of color collectively represent at least half of the population, a trend projected to rise (Musu-Gillette et al., 2016). Nonetheless, research consistently reveals significant disparities in the academic achievements of Black students at various stages of their educational journey within the United States. National data consistently indicate that Black students underperform in standardized testing compared to students from other racial backgrounds (Kena et al., 2016; Musu-Gillette et al., 2017), consistently scoring lower than their White counterparts in the public school system. The National Center for Educational Statistics (2016) reported substantial achievement gaps (a term scrutinized later) in reading between Black andWhite students in grades 4, 8, and 12. In grade 4, a 26-point gap exists, increasing to 28 points in grade 8 and reaching 30 points in grade 12. Additionally, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) documents that although Black students have made some progress in standardized testing, they continue to lag behind their White, Asian, and occasionally Latinx peers in reading and writing (Kena et al., 2016). Scholarly inquiry has identified certain factors that contribute to the academic performance of elementary-aged students of color, such as the implementation of culturally relevant instructional content and materials that reflect their own culture, providing valuable self-insight (Baines et al., 2018; Ladson Billings, 1995; Paris, 2012). The primary concern addressed in this research article is the concept of the achievement gap, which is more accurately termed the “achievement debt” borne by many Black students, underscoring the enduring racial divisions within the nation’s educational institutions. The term “achievement gap” is frequently employed in federal, state, and academic lexicons; however, it

NOTE FROM THE AUTHORS — Certainly, using the term “Black” instead of “African American” to encompass a broader range of individuals with diverse cultural backgrounds and origins is a valid and inclusive choice. It acknowledges the diversity within the Black community in the United States, which includes individuals with roots from various parts of the diaspora and the world. This approach promotes a more comprehensive and inclusive understanding of the experiences and challenges faced by individuals who identify as Black in the context of the article. ABSTRACT — This article aims to shed light on the disparities within the United States’ literacy landscape and their direct repercussions on the reading proficiency of Black students. It delves into the unequal conditions prevalent in American literacy education, emphasizing their deep-seated influence on the academic performance of Black students and the perpetuation of a pervasive cycle of educational inequality that extends well beyond the confines of the classroom. Various factors, including economic disparities, social inequalities, and political dynamics, significantly contribute to the disparities in educational resources, access to highly qualified educators, and the availability of quality learning materials. These disparities frequently result in diminished reading skills among Black students when compared to their peers, further widening the achievement gap that exists within the educational system. Moreover, the conventional school curriculum often lacks diversity in literary perspectives, depriving Black students of the opportunity to encounter characters and narratives that resonate with their own experiences. This absence can detrimentally affect their engagement and motivation to learn, ultimately impeding their academic progress. In light of these deeply entrenched systemic inequities, it becomes imperative to address them comprehensively. Such actions are crucial for fostering an equitable educational system that empowers Black students to unlock their full potential in reading achievement and overall academic success. Challenges in Literacy Achievement: Exploring Factors Impacting Black Students in U.S. Schools The perpetual challenge of racial equity within the U.S. public school system has been a subject of enduring concern. Notably, Black students consistently lack equitable opportunities to access high-quality pedagogical practices within the nation’s public educational institutions (Bates & Glick, 2013; Ladson-Billings, 2006, 2014). One contributing factor to this issue is the prevailing dominance of white middle-class norms in school structures and curricular frameworks, which are historically crafted to cater to the preferences and needs of European Americans (Omi & Winant, 1994). These norms were originally instituted to reinforce a

Literacy Matters General Articles

Literacy Matters | Volume 24 • Winter 2024 | 25 |


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