Blog: The Educated Reporter

An achievement gap AMONG blacks?

Take a look at this list of black high school students honored in Montgomery County, Md., recently for their “outstanding achievement in academics, community service and leadership.” Notice anything interesting?

Judging from their names and some information I dug up online, about three-fifths of them are African, in a school district where I think immigrants are by far the minority among blacks. This list, you know if you pay attention to this sort of thing, is not unusual.

We are aware of the immigrant paradox, but most people think about it in terms of Latinos. Musing out loud: If the performance of (first- or second-generation) immigrant black students exceeds the performance of the descendants of American slaves, does that distort what we know about the achievement gap? What does it mean about our perceptions of the role of racism in student achievement? How the hell did a kid from Togo who arrived with no English five years ago accomplish so much in so little time? (Could Serge Amouzou be more awesome? I don’t think so.) What can we learn from what the children of Africans have learned?

We often think of racial minorities as monoliths when within them lies a range of experience. Hmongs and Koreans may check off the same ethnicity box on registration forms, but their academic achievement, we know, is not similar in the aggregate. The same goes for all those people checking “African American.” They each are probably better described by one of those two words, and if there is a difference in their academic experiences because of it, we should explore that.