The Academic Achievement Gap: an Issue of Racial Justice

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The Academic Achievement Gap: an Issue of Racial Justice

by Rachel Krinsky
CEO, YWCA Madison, Wisc.

Rachel Krinsky
Photo by Willman Photography

Today’s racism, especially in politically-correct Madison, Wisc., is embedded in our institutions and opportunity structures, often hidden behind politeness.  To address racism and the effects of racism in today’s world, we have to change systems, invest significant resources, and give particular consideration to solutions that come directly from communities of color.

The widely-reported academic achievement gap for students of color across our nation is a good example of a current racial justice issue.  We are not setting our students of color up for successful futures and it is imperative that we view the achievement gap within its historical context. Instead of blaming the victims by placing the problem within the students, families, and communities of color themselves, let’s acknowledge the fact that oppressive and unjust policies over hundreds of years have contributed to today’s stark racial differences in income, wealth, opportunity, and access to systems and resources.  As a result of this “unequal playing field,” our students of color both need and deserve more from our schools to achieve equity.

Among many approaches in our community, the YWCA Madison specifically addresses the achievement gap through Restorative Justice programming that is intended to create system level change in the discipline system in our schools.  The Restorative Justice program diverts students from more punitive forms of discipline, such as suspensions and expulsions, which disproportionately impact students of color. By keeping students in school, increasing leadership capacity, and fostering a more positive school climate, Restorative Justice initiatives not only affect system level change in our partner schools, but also divert students of color from the school-to-prison pipeline.

To combat systemic racism more generally, the YWCA Madison offers an intensive three-level, 24-hour, Racial Justice Certificate Program which gives stakeholders the tools they need to analyze and challenge racial disparities in our community and our state, and an annual Racial Justice Summit that convenes national experts and local community members around issues of Racial Justice, and our Restorative Justice programming.

While no one can attend a workshop and reverse a lifetime of experiences, these trainings open the door for people in attendance to view their community from new perspectives, and they encourage participants to actively challenge racism in their spheres of influence. After attending YWCA workshops, a participant commented: “I am leaving with increased consciousness and an awareness of how I can use my race and class privilege to counter racism and classism.”

Please join us at the 2012 YWCA Madison Racial Justice Summit on October 15 and 16, featuring Melissa Harris-Perry and Carlos Muñoz, Jr. among other excellent speakers and workshops. Further information is available at

Rachel Krinsky is the CEO of the YWCA Madison, a membership organization dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.  Prior to this position, Rachel served as Executive Director of The Road Home Dane County for over 11 years, helping homeless families reach stable housing.

Rachel’s previous work included family and school counseling through Briarpatch, Inc. in Madison and counseling and case management services to people with HIV at the Utah AIDS Foundation in Salt Lake City.  She holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Utah and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.

Stand Against Racism logoThis post is part of the YWCA Stand Against Racism blog carnival on issues of race, justice and diversity. We invite you to join the dialogue! Post your comment below, share your story and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #StandAgainstRacism.