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Delineating the “duplicity of equality” in academic placement for African American families

Delineating the “duplicity of equality” in academic placement for African American families

The Duplicity of Equality: An Analysis of Academic Placement in a Racially Diverse School and a Black Community is the latest study by researcher and associate professor Richard Lofton, Jr., of the Center for Social Organization of Schools at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education. This study explores how African American parents come to terms with academic placement and mechanisms that affect their children’s educational experiences in a racially diverse school while living in a segregated high-poverty African American community.

Despite multiple policies to end discrimination, African Americans continue to face a “duplicity of equality”; that is, receiving unequal resources, opportunities, and knowledge, despite formal policies that enshrine the principles of justice for all. This ethnographic study illustrates perpetual social stratification through intergenerational tracking and elucidates African American parents’ experiences in navigating their children’s academic opportunities. Parents believed that they could not truly choose their child’s academic placement or that the choices offered were unlikely to improve their children’s life trajectories. They also believed that choosing upper-track classes would mean sacrificing their children’s social and emotional needs.

Lofton’s research highlights the mirroring of academic placement in a school to “placement” in a community. Although schools provide access to upper-track classes, as long as communities remain heavily disinvested, students will have difficulty acquiring the knowledge and skills needed for college and upward mobility. Based on his findings, Lofton makes five policy recommendations:

  • Access is not enough: schools must do a better job of protecting and supporting students in upper-track classrooms and communicating that support to parents.
  • Allocate resources to students’ communities: schools have underestimated how much neighborhood inequalities hinder parents from supporting, and students from achieving, academic success. Districts should redirect energies to partner with local, state, and government agencies to address neighborhood inequalities.
  • Clearly communicate with parents regarding educational reforms: Develop meaningful relationships with community members, pastors, and parents to ensure current policies are understood and accessible.
  • Value the knowledge: students and parents bring a wealth of knowledge to schools, which should be respected and valued.
  • Representation at all levels is important: racially diverse schools that are committed to detracking must do a better job of hiring African American teachers, aides, and administrators.

While prior studies recognize that African American students are disproportionally represented in lower-track classes, they have not explored the deeper mechanisms in homes and communities underlying this disparity. By giving voice to African American parents whose children face the realities of intergenerational tracking, this research sheds light on historic and current social challenges that African American communities face as they navigate educational opportunities, and presents much needed policy reforms to help dismantle the duplicity of equality.

Follow this link to read the full report.

Teachers College Record Volume 121 Number 3, 2019, p. – ID Number: 22579

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