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Start Where You Are, But Donít Stay There: Understanding Diversity, Opportunity Gaps, and Teaching in Todayís Classrooms


reviewed by Kaitlin P. Anderson - January 25, 2021

coverTitle: Start Where You Are, But Donít Stay There: Understanding Diversity, Opportunity Gaps, and Teaching in Todayís Classrooms
Author(s): H. Richard Milner IV
Publisher: Harvard Education Press, Boston
ISBN: 1682534391, Pages: 352, Year: 2020
Search for book at Amazon.com


In recent months, the COVID-19 pandemic and growing public awareness of the pandemic of systemic racism have renewed many educators’ focus on equity. Milner’s second edition of Start Where You Are, But Don’t Stay There: Understanding Diversity, Opportunity Gaps, and Teaching in Today’s Classrooms provides a realistic and grounded yet optimistic and hopeful look at how teachers of all backgrounds can work to overcome cultural conflicts, build relationships with students, co-construct meaningful learning opportunities, and foster excellence in all students. With clear implications for K-12 teachers, teacher educator programs, and school leaders, anyone interested in educational equity has something to gain by reading this book.

For those familiar with the first edition, in which Milner calls upon the education community to shift our focus and discourse from the “achievement gap” to the “opportunity gap” (Milner, 2015, p. 4), the second edition expands on Milner’s discussion of educational opportunity gaps to describe a framework for action and change: opportunity-centered teaching (OCT). In addition to describing opportunity gaps and the OCT framework, Milner uses case study narratives about real teachers in two U.S. schools, one middle school and one high school, as well as from aspiring teachers across the grade levels to illustrate his points.

The first chapter discusses what Milner calls the “Opportunity Gap Framework” (p. 21), focusing on five interconnected imperatives for teachers: the ability and willingness to reject color blindness, to understand and work through cultural conflicts, to recognize and reject the myth of meritocracy, to recognize and disrupt deficit mindsets about and low expectations of students, and to reject the idea of context-neutrality. In each area, Milner discusses some of the problematic mindsets that teachers commonly hold and ways to disrupt and shift those mindsets.

The narratives of four classroom teachers in Chapter Two through Four are realistic rather than idealistic, which may be more accessible for teachers wary about how to begin this important but challenging work. The case studies include some teachers who began with problematic mindsets, but then worked to develop the necessary skills to reach their students. The teachers in these narratives also come from different backgrounds, work in different school settings, and differ in their approaches to building relationships and overcoming cultural conflicts. Although Milner acknowledges the case studies are limited to only four teachers, all either White or Black, these examples demonstrate that any teacher, regardless of their background, can advance and transform educational equity if they work to build the knowledge and skills. In this way, the book provides a starting point for any teacher to develop the will, knowledge, and skills to begin this important work.

In Chapter Five, Milner discusses the “ongoing imperative” (p. 184) for teacher preparation programs to develop educators that meet the instructional needs of all students. He describes some problematic mindsets that many White aspiring teachers bring with them to their training, as well as the potential for them to change these mindsets. Many White aspiring teachers attend relatively homogenous, White schools and often do not see the importance of race or culture until they have an opportunity to experience a more diverse setting through their student teaching or practicum. Pre-service teachers also express discomfort and fear when talking about race. Teacher preparation programs must develop educators’ ability to “teach for diversity” and to “embrace, celebrate, and sustain difference – not simply tolerate or accept it” (p. 203). While these cases only included White aspiring teachers, Milner acknowledges that teacher education programs must do more to prepare all future educators, not just White ones, for this work.

Milner’s OCT framework, discussed in Chapter Six, is the most important addition in the second edition. The four tenets of this framework support educators to move from simply discussing opportunity gaps towards actually doing something about them. First, relationships are central to good teaching. Teachers must disrupt and counter negative discourse they hear about students and their community and help students to overcome deficit views as well. Second, educators must build community knowledge to help inform and transform teachers’ practice, for example by living in the community, actively engaging in community events and issues, and listening to the expertise in the community. Third, the OCT framework explicitly acknowledges that a lot of learning happens outside the school through extracurricular activities like part-time jobs, clubs, and social opportunities that are “rarely honored, considered, or linked as a central part of the formal curriculum of schools” (p. 239). OCT calls on us to better align our practices, expectations, and experiences with those happening outside of the classroom. Finally, OCT emphasizes the mental health and well-being of both educators and their students. Milner explains that educators are increasingly feeling strained and drained, and this likely influences how they interact with students. He further discusses the psychological toll that racial abuses or microaggressions can have on students, such as “racial battle fatigue” (Smith et al., 2011), and the potential for educators to use micro affirmations (Rowe, 2011) as way to disrupt these nefarious effects. Milner discusses these issues and the OCT framework in a way that provides both explicit examples of the problematic mindsets, beliefs, and practices that we need to disrupt as well as explicit examples of how educators can begin to do so.

Milner’s book is not only interesting; it is a useful tool for educators who want to transform their practice as well as a call to action. The narratives are compelling and spark interest and a desire to learn more. The book is at once empirical, theoretical, and practical; it is accessible and compelling to a variety of audiences, and its ideas and conclusions are clearly supported by Milner’s own research and experience, as well as research in the field. While the case studies will not apply in all settings or situations, and while he cautions the reader to avoid viewing any type of teacher or approach as a “panacea” (p. 258), Milner urges the reader to find what is most relevant and applicable to their own situation and context. His book also includes a variety of tables that an educator can use as summaries, reflection guides, and a checklist of sorts as they progress through this work. More than just a tool, Milner calls all teachers and teacher educators to action. He encourages us that one person can make meaningful change, but he also pushes us to think about the power of collective action: “What would happen if a group of teachers transformed their practices to address opportunity gaps as they build opportunity-centered practices?... In what ways might students benefit when teachers collectively transform the very fabric of an entire school or district?” (p. 274).

References

McIntosh, P. (1988). White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack. In P. S. Rothenberg (Ed.), Race, class, and gender in the United States: An integrated study (6th ed., pp. 188–192) Worth Publishers.

Milner, H. R. (2015). Start where you are, but don’t stay there: Understanding diversity, opportunity gaps, and teaching in today’s classrooms. Harvard Education Press.

Rowe, M. (2008). Micro-affirmations and micro-inequities. Journal of the International Ombudsman Association, 1(1), 45-48.

Smith, W. A., Hung, M., & Franklin, J. D. (2011). Racial battle fatigue and the miseducation of Black men: Racial microaggressions, societal problems, and environmental stress. The Journal of Negro Education, 80(1), 63–82.





Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: January 25, 2021
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23575, Date Accessed: 5/20/2022 1:03:30 AM

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About the Author
  • Kaitlin Anderson
    Lehigh University
    E-mail Author
    KAITLIN P. ANDERSON, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of Educational Leadership at Lehigh University. Her research interests include issues of equity and opportunity in educational organizations, and in particular, the implementation and impacts of education policies related to student discipline policy, teachers, school choice, and access to educational opportunities. Ongoing projects include an evaluation of a student discipline policy reform and a national look at the correlates and sources of racial gaps in Advanced Placement math and science coursework. Her recent publications include:
    Anderson, K. P. (Forthcoming). The relationship between inclusion, absenteeism, and disciplinary outcomes for students with disabilities. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis.
    Anderson, K. P. & Nagel, J. (2020). Crossing over? The implications of reform to the traditional public school labor market for charter school teachers. Journal of School Choice. https://doi.org/10.1080/15582159.2020.1718955
 
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