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.

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