Coming to Terms with H. Richard Milner IV’s article, “Rethinking Achievement Talks in Urban Education”

I am analyzing a document called, “Rethinking Achievement Talks in Urban Education”, by H. Richard Milner IV. 

APA citation

Milner, H. R. (2013). Rethinking achievement gap talk in urban education. Urban Education, 48(1), 3-8. doi:10.1177/0042085912470417

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Introducing the Author

Richard Miller IV is Chair of Urban Education, Professor of Education, Professor of Social Work, Professor of Sociology, and Professor of Africana Studies as well as Director of the Center for Urban Education at the University of Pittsburgh. In addition, he is a fellow of the American Educational Research Association.His research, teaching and policy interests concern urban education, teacher education, African American literature, and the social context of education. In particular, Professor Milner’s research examines practices and policies that support teacher success in urban schools. Professor Milner’s work has appeared in numerous journals, and he has published five books.

Identifying Aims

This article is an introduction to an analysis on the inequity of the urban education standards and what effects these can have.  Although the reader is not provided with an in-depth examination of the topic, he or she can still grasp the thesis.  Milner describes how most researchers focus on an “achievement gap” between privileged and less-privileged students, and he recognizes that this is a problem.  However, he does not believe that that is where the research should stop.  He believes that there is a necessity to look at what causes there to be this “achievement gap”, and through this, describes other “gaps” that tend to extend the divide between the privileged and less-privileged students.  Milner urges those in urban education to consider and address these obstacles that create the lack of an equitable education.

The urban education scene is where one can see the largest differences in achievement between certain groups of students.  Milner defines the privileged students are those of white/European descent, high economic status, or those who are native English speakers and the less privileged students as those of black or latino/a heritage, low economic status, or those who are not native English speakers. Privileged tends to be recognized as the standard for achievement; meanwhile, everything else is left to be excluded and delegitimized.  Milner urges urban educators to reconsider and redefine what achievement and acquired knowledge means.

Explaining Methods

Milner builds upon a study performed by sociologists Ladson-Billings and Irvine. They researched whether the notion of an “achievement gap” could be misleading, engaging in a dialogue of recognizing that there are other gaps layered leading to the formation of an achievement gap.  These other gaps that should be taken into consideration are, among others:

  1. The teacher quality gap
  2. The teacher training gap
  3. The challenging curriculum gap
  4. The school funding gap
  5. The digital divide gap
  6. The wealth and income gap
  7. The employment opportunity gap
  8. The affordable housing gap
  9. The health care gap
  10. The nutrition gap
  11. The school integration gap
  12. The quality childcare gap

Using the concept of “gaps” and providing the overlooked gaps, Milner established a framework for which he could elaborate in explaining the opportunity gaps:

  1. Colorblindness
  2. Cultural conflicts
  3. Myth of Meritocracy
  4. Low expectations and deficit mindsets
  5. Context-neutral mindsets and practices

Identifying Key Concepts and Passages

“Standardization of policies and practices is at the heart of many reform efforts aimed to decrease and eventually eliminate achievement gaps. However, based on my analyses, standardization, in many ways, is antithetical to the diversity that communities of people possess because it suggests that all students live and operate in homogeneous environments with equality and equity of opportunity afforded to them (Ladson-Billings, 2000; Milner & Williams, 2008; Tate, 2008). Standardization reform efforts advance a sameness agenda when the playing field for many students of color, English language learners, and students from lower socio-economic backgrounds in urban environments is anything but even or level (Ladson-Billings, 2006).”

  • This relates to Milner’s assessment of equity and his established differences between privileged students and non-privileged students.

“Results on outcomes such as standardized tests provide information about a particular, socially-constructed way of thinking about what students know and need to know. However, the results on standardized examinations only seem to report one-dimension of a much more complex and nuanced reality of what students know. Moreover, results on standardized exams do not adequately explain why some students are not performing well or the other aspects of students’ knowledge that do not show up on examinations. Students’ outcomes on standardized examinations will vary based in part on the instruction and learning opportunities they experience as well as a host of outside of school variables such as poverty, employment or the lack thereof, and where students’ homes are located (Milner, in press). Researchers and theorists socially construct what achievement means as well as academic and social success.”

  • This introduces why homogeneity causes problems for the long-term educational reformation.

Examining Materials

 Milner uses credible, scholarly resources, all of which are cited above.  He references them directly throughout his analysis.  This helps the reader to grasp that there is a community of scholars and sociologists developing new research in urban education, not just one “radical conspiracy theorist”.

Evaluating Uses and Limits

Milner proposed the following questions to those in urban education:

  1. To what extent is achievement synonymous with learning?
  2. What does it mean for one group of students to learn and achieve in one school community and not succeed in another?
  3. Who decides what it means to achieve, why, and how do we know?
  4. How do we address the kind of learning and knowledge acquisition that never show up on achievement measures—including highstakes and standardized tests?

By inserting these questions directly into the introduction of his general research makes the reader linger a little more.  These questions have me pondering if I could do further research on them; I would definitely be able to draw on this article to help dip my toe in the pool of urban education research.  My only concern is that, being that this article specifically does not have any research in it, I would have to rely on it solely for a framework.  Nevertheless, since Milner generously provides the reader with his sources, I would easily be able to track down others who have led research initiatives for this topic.

Summary of Annotation

The author of “Rethinking Achievement Talks in Urban Education” is H. Richard Milner IV.  Among other astounding achievements, he is the Director for the Center of Urban Education at the University of Pittsburgh.  He wrote this piece as part of an ongoing research initiative to examine the inequity in urban education and the root causes of the inequity.  Through his research, Milner discovered that the “achievement gap” (inequity) is only the result of a multidimensional complex of layered gaps in the education system as a whole.  He urges the people in urban education to quit relying on the explanation of an “achievement gap” and analyze it through its root causes in order to dismantle it.  In developing and establishing his own framework, Milner inculcates widely-used vocabulary in the way that he wants readers to understand it and uses previous research of legitimate sociologists to support his manner of defining certain terms.  If a reader, such as myself, were to pick up an interest in this field of research, he or she should know that this is a credible source for the production of an idea; however, he or she will have to find supplementary factual evidence.  Without the cold, hard facts, any opponent of this rhetoric could see it to his or her advantage to say that this is subjective, not objective, which would constitute the grounds of an illegitimate argument.


Orientation & Service at the LAYC, so far

The Latin American Youth Center is in a neighborhood in D.C. called Columbia Heights.  Since I live in Foggy Bottom, I take either the blue, silver, or orange line from the GWU-Foggy Bottom Metro Station to the L’Enfant Plaza station.  From there, I take either the yellow or green line to the Columbia Heights station.  Walking to the LAYC from the metro station is nice because it is not too far, but I still get to walk a few blocks (I personally like being able to walk to and from places, it is just too time consuming to walk directly from my dorm to the LAYC).  Walking through the neighborhood, I see a lot more people of color than I do in Foggy Bottom.  I actually feel more comfortable that way because I do not feel like I am being trapped in one perspective.

The people at the LAYC are very nice.  They all are so dedicated to their work and the students themselves, proving that they make respectable mentors.  My orientation was basically just a walk-through of the four floors of the LAYC.  It was nothing uptight, which was refreshing because I felt less pressure to fit the predictable image of “studious volunteer”.  The person giving me the orientation tour, Pam, was really enthusiastic because she told me she was a student who went through the LAYC’s programs.  Her energy is a great fit for the LAYC, and everyone there genuinely appreciates Pam.

My role in the organization is to be a translator in the guitar class.  Every Friday, I sit in the guitar class from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm, and I basically repeat what the guitar teacher tells me to tell the students who do not understand English.  Honestly, I feel kind of useless in that role because most of the students in the guitar class speak English and Spanish.  Why did they need me to be a translator?  Why not just get one of the bilingual students to translate?  Thinking back on this, it is probably because some of the bilingual students do not always show up.  Even recognizing this, I still feel weird because I feel as if some of the students perceive me as “that gringa” that does not really know anything.  For example, I had to translate something for the teacher, but it had musical diction that I had never even heard of in English – let alone in Spanish – and I had to work my way around the vocabulary.  The students looked at me as if I had four heads, then another one of the students translated it, and they all seemed to understand.  I felt as if I failed the people who recruited me.  Needless to say, I have a little ways to go to feel like I belong in that role.  Time is the best solution because after a few more weeks go by, the regulars at the LAYC and guitar class will – hopefully- get accustomed to my presence.

Some questions going through my instrospective mind as I sit in the guitar class are:

  1. How do the students feel about my “gringa” presence in general?
  2. How does the staff feel about my “gringa” presence?
  3. Do the students think I am feeding into the White Savior Complex?
  4. Would the students actually like to get to know me better?
  5. One of the main goal of the organizations is to motivate the students to pursue higher education.  What do they do for the students that have the mental capacity but not the financial capacity?


Introducing the Language of Caste

On this day, marked as the 52nd anniversary of Malcolm X’s death, I am analyzing the introduction to Michelle Alexander’s, Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. This anniversary is relevant to Alexander’s intention for her written word.  Malcolm X tried provoking consciousness within the minority community because he believed that many were mental slaves to the political institutions.  Michelle Alexander explicitly stated on page four, paragraph two, “Quite belatedly, I came to see that mass incarceration in the United States had, in fact, emerged as a stunningly comprehensive and well-disguised system of racialized social control that functions in a manner strikingly similar to Jim Crow,” to prove that she had to be awoken through her own personal journey to social consciousness.  On page three, paragraph 3, she reminisces on the time she overlooked the hyperbole – or what she thought was overdramatic at the time – “THE DRUG WAR IS THE NEW JIM CROW”.  When she first came into contact with “radicals” she thought they were crazy; throughout the introduction, she elaborates on how her experiences working at the ACLU started uprooting her from her  ~ somewhat ~ comfortable slumber.  Now that she looks back at how her mind used to view racial injustice, she knows that anyone is capable of coming to new understandings.  On page sixteen, paragraph two, she says that what this book is intended to do is, “to stimulate a much-needed conversation about the role of the criminal justice system in creating and perpetuating racial hierarchy in the United States”.  The motivation seems to be the fact that Alexander has come to realize that Social Justice is not a contest of perfection; it is a process of growth, and we can all grow in some way, shape, or form.  If Malcolm X were alive, he would be proud of her realization and attempt to provide information for those who have not been exposed to this type of dialogue previously.

Alexander’s argument is simple, yet complex.  She wants to detail how people of color have been locked out of mainstream society into a permanent second-class citizenship (page thirteen, paragraph one).  Here is where it starts getting complex: how are people of color being locked out of mainstream society?  Her claim is that there is a new caste system, a new system of control used to stigmatize people of color: mass incarceration.  “Mass incarceration is the most damaging manifestation of the backlash against the Civil Rights Movement” because it affects the black community disproportionately more than it affects the white community, creating the noticeable racial dimension (page eleven, paragraph three).

To help the reader wrap his or her mind around the message of the book, Alexander starts off the introduction with an anecdote.  This allows the reader to relate to the author and to think, “Oh, so it’s not just me that has been through a rigorous journey of trying to understand the complexities of the evolution of racism in the United States.”  She then shifts from what she learned from working at the ACLU to stating the main problem of institutionalized racism being mass incarceration.  She then proceeds to define and describe what that entails so that the reader becomes familiar with her language and approach to the matter.  Because this is such a controversial work, she has to be very picky with her word choice so the readers will not be so quick to give in to misunderstandings.  In my opinion, this ties into her framework.  She constructs her own analytical system of defining the concerning topics, labeling it as a “language of caste” (page thirteen, paragraph two) and distinguishing how the language of caste has evolved.  Alexander does not give the reader the option to evaluate if the evolution is present or not; what the reader can analyze is how the evolution of the language of caste has affected his or her life, and what he or she can do to fully remove its existence from society.  I have inferred that she will also establish an “Us” vs. “Them” dynamic.  Finally, she transitions into how each of the six chapters focuses on to relate back to the main topic.  Her objects of study for this are specifically black males and their experiences under the new caste system.  I appreciate that on pages fifteen and sixteen, paragraphs five and one respectively, she states, “Relatively little is said here about the unique experience of women, Latinos, and immigrants in the criminal justice system, though these groups are vulnerable to the worst abuses and suffer in ways that are important and distinct.” By addressing this, the reader knows that she acknowledges the diverse shackles of oppression, but can not fit all of them into one small book.

Even in the introduction, there was a beautiful call to action: We have to “cultivate an ethic of genuine care, compassion, and concern for every human being–of every class, race, and nationality–within our nation’s borders, or the collapse of mass incarceration will not mean the death of racial caste in America.” After reading the introduction, I have become more motivated to self-educate in order to ensure that the current racial caste system is this country’s last.

Where is MY Voice in MY Writing?

In high school, my writing was often curtailed by my teachers’ expectations of a strict set of regulations.  I have always been one to think outside of the box; however, due my teachers’ dissatisfaction to my unusual writing style, I have become dependent on a set of “writing rules” for whenever I am assigned to write an essay.  Throughout my high school career, all I wanted was to be able to express my individuality through writing, but alas, I shied away from it.  Now that I am in university, where the professors feed off of individuality, I have realized I can’t supply that through my writing, for it has been drained.  For our practice essay in this University Writing class, I was elated to find out that I would be able to develop my own question to research.  Unfortunately, I found myself continuously asking, “What should I do?  Does it need to be like this or that?  What are the rules?”  I had finally gotten my chance to “do me” in writing, but it felt the most unnatural.  What was “me”?  Where was I in my own writing?

I decided to bring some familiarity to my essay. The assignments was to analyze the rhetoric of a community organization, and I decided to analyze the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC), as that is where I am volunteering.  I wanted to analyze how the LAYC uses the “Nurturing Parent” technique (instead of the “Strict Father” technique) to empower the marginalized youth.  Working to be an ally to the marginalized people in the United States is a passion of mine, so this motivated me to delve deeper and do more research for the essay.  However, being that there were no guidelines, I struggled in the approach of my research question.  I had to choose a framework and the objects of study, but I did not know how to dissect this.  My framework was George Lakoff’s “Moral Politics”, but since I was analyzing this framework, was that my object of study? I realized that my object of study was what I was going to use to test how this specific framework was employed at the LAYC.  I knew the “Nurturing Parent” style was preferred at the LAYC, but how was I going to prove it?  Would I write it like a narrative or an analytical piece?

Eventually, after the workshops in class, I realized I could take it any way I wanted to.  My workshop partners built up my confidence by telling me that my research question was interesting, but I just need to straighten out the difference between my framework and my object of study.  They helped me tie up the loose ends by suggesting I describe things more, and I appreciate their advice because I now realize where I was missing certain vital details.  I added some stylistic pieces here and there, and I laid out the facts. The point is, this essay truly helped me to begin finding my own voice through writing.  This is imperative for me to be able to accomplish, as I need to be able to reach people through writing in my future career if I want to spread my ideas.  I think I worried too much about what I was not doing right for this essay, which is why it is not perfect, but I am ready to do better on my final research essay.

Don’t Hate the Player…Hate the Game.

Writing scholar, Peter Elbow, stated, “No one can make me doubt something I want to believe…it won’t happen unless I actually try.”  The first situation that popped up in my head when I read this was someone that was blinded by love and only wanted to believe the good things in his or her significant other.  In our contemporary society, the majority loves their own opinion so much that it only embraces the ideas aligning with its own.  However, every great intellectual knows that to improve one’s rhetoric, one must challenge his or her own ideas and try to embrace new ones  — in my humble opinion, there is a limit to ideas we should try embracing as some could be harmful to society, i.e. racism. To combat this subconscious – or even conscious- bias, Peter Elbow framed two strategies known as the “Doubting Game” and the “Believing Game”.

~ Doubting Game: challenging the concepts with which we agree

~ Believing Game: trying to embrace the concepts with which we disagree

I agree with Elbow when he says we need to build a richer culture of rationality.  It is vital that when a person speaks, he or she knows the cracks and crevices in each corner of his or her words.  By spitting out another person’s words, one simply looks like  lost puppy, a follower..not a leader.  In order to challenge my conclusions of the rhetoric I described in my previous blog, I will draw on my classmate, Marie’s, analysis of her community organization’s rhetoric.

Marie analyzed the same community organization as me, the Latin American Youth Center.  She concluded that the LAYC wants their audience to see a more nurturing parent approach to community action.  According to Marie’s analysis, the LAYC accomplishes this by having the audience come across words associated with motivation and inspiration, providing facts about the organization’s achievements, and by embracing diversity.  To complete her analysis, Marie used the LAYC’s website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Each of these platforms has pictures and written articles serving as proof of involvement and effectiveness.  Through these testimonies, it is ensured that the LAYC does reach a strong sense community action based on the empowerment of a community within the D.C. area.

Even the word “ensured” has a bit of bias in it.  To begin my own inquiry of the LAYC’s rhetoric, I am choosing three documents to investigate.  The first one is called, “Our Impact: Youth Demographics” (  It provides the reader with specific statistics on the target audience for these programs.  For example, the race/ethnicity, gender, age, languages spoken at home, area of residence, and country of origin of the participants are provided.  Juxtaposed with this is the list of achievements of the LAYC.

The second document I chose to analyze is called, “January 2017 Youth Spotlight: Alexander Palacios” (  It is a blog written by an actual participant of the LAYC’s programs.  Alexander describes the role the environment of the LAYC played in assisting him in achieving his vision of success so far in his life.  It serves as a testimony that the LAYC does not just talk the talk; it walks the walk and pushes their targeted youth to succeed. It is not just someone from the corporate perspective trying to fake greatness.

The third document I chose to analyze is the reviews on the LAYC’s Facebook page.  The LAYC has a 4.4 star rating.  From what I could see, the overwhelming majority only had great reviews to put out there.  Many adults like to point out the diversity of the students, but many of the students focus on how the LAYC has become a second home for them. In general, everyone seems appreciative.

~Doubting Game:

Marie believes that these sources serve to highlight the diversity of the programs at the LAYC and the Columbia Heights neighborhood and that it is a “culturally sensitive” place.  Furthermore, she thinks that providing the statistics is necessary in showing how effective the LAYC’s initiatives are.  One thing that might be misleading is the word “diverse”.  The philosophy behind the word “diverse” is a variety of ethnicities, with no dominant ethnicity.  However, on the LAYC’s website, many of the students featured in articles, blogs, photos, etc., are of hispanic or latino descent.  This is completely rational and understandable, considering it is called the Latin American Youth Center, but does this actually represent diversity? Or is “diversity” in this sense just emphasizing anything other than white?

~Believing Game: 

As Marie emphasized in her analysis, the LAYC is a “culturally sensitive” place.  What i have found to support this is actually the article I dissected in my previous blog post.  The article called, “Inauguration Day at LAYC is to ‘Dream About a Better World’,” states how the staff and youth of the LAYC community decided to host a series of events on inauguration Day open to the LAYC youth, their families and friends to provide a safe space for them.  Consequently, the latina and hispanic communities are going to have to heighten their awareness of their occupation in this country under the Trump administration, but the fact that the LAYC provided a service for this marginalized community shows its compassion and empathy for said community.

~My Stance:

I agree with Marie in her conclusion that the LAYC shows diversity and cultural sensitivity.  We both have also come to the conclusion that the LAYC employs the Nurturing Parent approach as opposed to the Strict Father approach.  Although Marie and I both feel as if this specific organization would fall under the “By the People” portion of the Ryder Matrix, I specified a bit further and declared that it also pertains to the “For the People” portion of the Ryder Matrix.  I am happy to partake in an investigation of my critical thinking skills, and I believe that in some cases, my opinion might be malleable.  In this particular situation, I have remained with mostly the same conclusions.  The one question I remain with is: What does diversity mean to the Latin American Youth Center?







What’s the Rhetoric?

“Youth” is a recurring theme on the Latin American Youth Center’s social media posts-for obvious reasons.  The LAYC is the safe haven for the youth to showcase their talents and to prepare to make the changes to progress towards a more democratic government in the United States.  I conclude this from an article on the website called, “Inauguration Day at LAYC is to ‘Dream about a Better World'”.  This article caught my attention specifically because I empathize with how this specific marginalized community would be further marginalized under the Trump regime.  This article was a description of the fact that the LAYC would be open on Inauguration Day.  “While the LAYC’s staff has decided to host this space, the program during the day will be held by youth in LAYC programs…We look forward to building our youth’s voices and their critical thinking skills about the days to come.”   Seeing this in the article reminds me that there are still non-profit organization not only doing the work for the attention and reputation.

In my opinion, the LAYC fits into Ryder’s Matrix on in “For the People” and “By the People”.  Considering “For the People”, this event on Inauguration Day was a collectivist effort to provide a comfortable space for a marginalized community on a traumatic day in U.S. history.  The students and staff wanted to ensure that the threatened and scared families would be emotionally taken care of.  Regarding “By the People”, the students running the program hosted an open mic from 1:00 pm until 2:00 pm with spoken word.  Usually through spoken word, the speaker activates the emotional reasoning of the audience.  After analyzing these two aspects, I would place the LAYC in the front left of Ryder’s Matrix.  I can also relate the LAYC’s style of programming to the George Lakoff reading, categorizing it as the “Nurturing Parent” style of political discourse rather than the “Strict Father”.  Operating with the acceptance of diverse mindsets, the discipline at the LAYC is based on mutual respect and emotional reliance.  There is an empathetic way of going about caring for the community, not believing that these kids would be inherently naughty and deserving of punishment.

Personally, I can relate to the “Nurturing Parent” approach more, as I grew up under the “Strict Father” approach, which ended up straining my relationships with my nuclear family.  I appreciate how this organization uplifts the voices of the students rather than overshadowing or hindering their voices and allows the students to forge their own paths to their future and the future of our global society, providing the resources for those lacking sufficient support but showing a profound amount of potential.  I am proud to be volunteering at an organization that operates the way the LAYC does, embracing love as the foundation of empowerment.

Participando en la Comunidad

Absorbing the options of EngageDC on the handout provided in class, I flipped back and forth through the pages over and over again.  This was a whole semester-long commitment to volunteer somewhere; I wanted to choose wisely so that I would not regret my decision.  I did not want to be a tutor.  I have been an active tutor for kids whose first language is Spanish through my high school’s chapter of the National Spanish Honors Society, and tutoring just is not my style.  When I go in with the goal of tutoring, I usually end up having given the student a life lesson instead of helping him or her with a necessary homework assignment.  This may have been useless academically to the student, but they appreciated how I was able to connect with them on a deeper-than-homework level.  It also showed me that I have the capacity and talent to bond one-on-one with students.  Seeing “Social Media Intern” made me think I would be able to form close relationships with students from different backgrounds than myself but actually accomplish my assignments.  Upon seeing that it was through the Latin American Youth Center, I got excited because I would be able to out my language skills to use.

The position there that I kept getting drawn to was “Social Media Intern”.  I love to work with photography-honestly, if I was not majoring in International Affairs, I would be studying photojournalism-, so I finally stopped flipping through the pages and noted that the hours were very limited.  However, being that the organization was the Latin American Youth Center, I thought to myself, “Eh. Still apply for this one.  They might work with you more since you can speak Spanish fluently.”  After meeting with the site operations manager, this turned out to be accurate.  Unfortunately, I will not be the Social Media Intern because my schedule was too difficult to function with that position.  Nevertheless, something better was in store for me, and they needed me more somewhere else when I happened to be free. I get to go on Friday afternoons to the music classes and simply be a translator for the music teachers. This may sound very boring to the average Joe, but I want to become a certified translator to make extra money in university, and this could help legitimize that aspiration.  Also, I will be the only bilingual volunteer there, so I can be the bridge of trust between the students and the teacher, and that makes me feel like I am truly an important part of the process.

The element from the LAYC’s website that kept my interest the most was the picture on the home page.  It features five students of minority backgrounds.  Knowing that I will be working with students of different origins than myself motivates me more because I know I will be able to learn just as much from them as they will from me.  These students also looked genuinely happy with themselves, and currently, I am at a point in my life where I am dedicating my thought process to optimism and happiness only, so being surrounded by their peace of mind would really benefit me as well.  I think what this service learning project will bring to me is a more profound understanding of my mantra, “Unidad En Diversidad”.