The Achievement Gap Has Been Manufactured

A few days ago I was given a worksheet. This was ordinary, for I am a 13 year old in a school ... a school that gives out worksheets. But this was no regular worksheet, it was believe it or not, a true or false survey, featuring compelling facts like, “15% more white students graduate high school than blacks in Baltimore.” This had to be false. Right? 

As I scrolled through these heartrending facts, I reached one that burned my insides. “Only 7% of black boys in the 8th grade read on or above grade level.” FALSE! No way. Ms. Clay had to be just using this as a hook to give us a lecture about how blacks and whites are still not equal. She just wanted to see the assumptions we would make. Well, I didn’t believe it. I knew that we as an entire city, were better than that, and in the end, my paper consisted of mostly false answers, with a true here or there.

Then, we were given an article from the Baltimore Sun titled, “Building Strong Children”. This article consisted of all of the statements that were on the survey. Ms. Clay wouldn’t confirm any our survey’s answers. She made us read for ourselves. To my dismay, all of the statements were proven to be true by reliable, sound studies, often conducted by our very own government. We proceeded to talk about these horrific facts in a Socratic Seminar, which Ms. Clay asked me to facilitate. I was proud that she trusted me enough to lead what was about to be one of the most powerful discussions of the trimester.

The reaction of my peers, these young yet insightful 12 and 13 year olds, was profound. “Could that be me?” “I never want to be a part of that 93%!” But the response that I found the most intriguing, so real and so blunt was, “That’s why it’s never good to be normal, to be a statistic. We have to do better.” My friends, my peers, the kids that I had gone to school with since kindergarten, had given me something to think on. Not just anything. But something that could affect all of us. White or Black. “Smart” or “Dumb”. Optimistic or realistic. Funny or unpopular. This entire experience was, dare I say this word again, profound.

So you think about it: Would you have believed this? Are you affected by this? Is this something you want to change? Now our job as the next generation is to figure out how. How can we be the change that we want to see?
Here are some of the most “profound” statements of the discussion, along with their coinciding quotes.

“Some of the most esteemed Baltimoreans attended or graduated from Baltimore City high schools”.

False, it can’t be possible for a black person to get a job like that because we are labeled as drop outs. –Deandre

….low expectations. – Scott; in response to Deandre.

I think it’s true but people don’t expect successful people to come from Baltimore because of our reputation. -Payton

True, anyone is capable of getting a good job like that. You just have to work for it. Hard work pays off. -Eric

True, everyone has untapped potential. –Bishop

 “Only 7% of 8th grade black boys in Baltimore 
read on grade level.”

I think it’s true because of stereotypes.- Samantha

I think it’s false because I think kids are just being lazy and not showing their teachers what they can really do academically. They’re trying to be cool like Wes Moore when he was younger. -Monet

True. Black boys set bad influences every day. It could be a little bit of music. But we aren’t reading as much as we should, period.- Jeramiah

True. It’s because people don’t read at home.-Eric

I think it is false. People always want to know the bad, they don’t focus on the good.- Jake

“3 teenagers were all killed 
within a 10 day period last month.”

I don’t know if it’s true but I can believe it because of stereotypes and the current murder rate in our city. - Eric

I don’t know if it’s true but I can guess that it is. Nobody, including me sometimes, has any faith in Baltimore. But I want to believe it can change. -Jeral

I think it’s true and sad. We’re in a world where nothing is promised. This is why parents have to support their kids.- Scott

“Black parents whisper their fears for their sons, 
then quietly move out of Baltimore 
to what they pray are safer neighborhoods.”

True. Some people in Baltimore go to bed scared every night. 
But where else are we going to go? 
Violence seems to follow you everywhere. –Martaeja

“57% percent of black males 
are currently graduating from high school 
compared to 81% for white males.”

True. They can do better but they choose not to. -Vernon

It’s not true because of race its true because of the decisions people make.- Jeral

I don’t really care. As long as I graduate, it’s not my problem. That sounds harsh but that’s pretty much how our society treats us anyways. - Lealon

“There is nothing easy about “building” strong children, but we do know that our children require much labor and love to flourish.”

Kids think a strong child is a person with a gun, or a bat.- Hosea

Strength is in knowledge and activism. -Bishop

You could be the smartest child in the world but not do anything to better the world. We have to help each other, that’s the only way out. -Vernon

It’s the smartest ones that end up in jail.-Jake

You learn from your failures and other people’s mistakes. -Raekwon

You are the sum of your experiences. Key word: YOU. –Martaeja

My father says that he made his mistakes for me so that I don’t have to go down the same path. I am grateful. – Jeral

It takes a village to raise a child. - Aliyah

Just when I thought we were done and Ms. Clay was satisfied, she handed me another article. I looked at Scott who shook his head and said, “She’s never satisfied.” This text was from titled, “Black Reading Skills: Reports Miss the Mark” by Ivory Toldson, contradicting almost everything that we previously read. But that’s Ms. Clay for you, always giving us multiple perspectives. To maintain my obsession over this 2 syllable word, I must say, it was profound.

Though the 1st article never really talked about why, this new article was all about how the achievement gap has been manufactured, rather than it being just a natural occurrence. This article referenced several young men and women who have for instance, gotten 2 masters, but failed the reading comprehension test for the state. 

A young 3rd grader was a star in his class and earned straight A’s, breezing through tests easily and passing with flying colors. But while applying for a scholarship to a nearby private school, he was declared unable to comprehend 2nd grade texts. The teachers at his school saw the results and this young smart black boy was held back. So, this text forced me to ask, was this more than an “at home” situation? Does it really have anything to do with coming from an unstable home or untraditional family environment? Or are these standardized tests engineered to fail black men and women? 

Just recently while studying for the MSA, we came across a question that relied on knowing what the word “din” means.  Would the average black kid from the hood know the difference between den and din?! Not to say that I don’t expect them to but let’s be realistic, these tests are just plain biased. And after grappling with the Toldson article, I’m starting to believe that the media’s portrayal of “smart” and “underachieving” is biased too. This is ridiculous and unfair.  Is history repeating itself? Are we still living in the 60s? If so, we need to start a riot. Because from what I know about history, making noise is the only way to get things accomplished. So what do I need? Why even take the time to write this? Because I realize that the so called “achievement gap” isn’t going to close unless we, as the Baltimore City kids that they are writing about, work hard and close it ourselves.

Warner B.
Age 13


  1. This is Warne. Thanks for the love and awesomeness! I am even getting to meet THE Toldson! You guys are AMAZING!!


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