Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Strategies for Closing Achievement Gap

We all know that an achievement gap exists in this country. White children tend to outperform black children. Children from wealthy families tend to outperform children from poorer families. And we've tried countless reforms to close these gaps. But I think that virtually all of these reforms can be fit into one of these four categories (roughly in chronological order by start date):

1.) Equalize Resources of Schools
From "Separate but Equal" to Savage Inequalities to school finance lawsuits, people have advocated that schools with more disadvantaged youth be given resources equal to those of wealthier schools -- everything from textbooks to experienced teachers. In other words, "give them the same."

2.) Integrate Schools
From Brown v. Board of Education to busing to magnet schools, people have tried to send poorer children to the same schools as wealthier children -- hoping that attending the same school will yield the same results. In other words, "mix them together."

3.) Enhance Impoverished Schools
From the Abbott Districts in NJ to boarding schools like Hershey or SEED to schools with dental clinics and social workers, people have attempted to make up for the lack of resources at home by providing poorer students with more resources at school than are available to wealthier students. In other words, "give them more."

4.) "No Excuses"
From NCLB to charter schools to vouchers people have set out to prove that children from poorer families can achieve with the same level of resources if only we avoid making excuses and do our best. In other words, "work harder."

All four movements have yielded some successes and some failures. None of the four have been implemented to the extent that their fiercest supporters would advocate. And, arguably as a result, none of the four have completely closed the achievement gap.

But let me end with a couple questions for the readers of this post (there's a reason for this, which I'll get to in a later post):

1.) Do you agree that virtually all reforms designed to close the achievement gap thus far can be lumped into these four categories? If not, what category am I missing? (If you don't leave a comment, I'll assume you agree with me.)

2.) Is there some other strategy not listed on here that we're not pursuing that we should be? (If you don't leave a comment, I'll assume there's not.)


tft said...

Closing the acheivment gap through reforming public education is simply erroneous, as the problems do not lend themselves to being fixed by teachers and/or schools.

Therefore, you disallow the listing of "eliminating poverty" as a strategy, and subsequently, a means to the desired end.

The whole issue is "ill posed".

There, I bit...

Rachel said...

I think you're missing the governance/staffing approaches -- the idea that charters can do what "regular" schools can't with the same resources.

Charters certainly don't increase integration, and they do very little to (directly) address resource inequities. They may be more likely to take a no excuses approach, but that's not fundamental being a charter.

I think you're correct that when people get into specifics of how to close the achievement gap most approaches fall into one of your categories. But a lot of discussions of education reform don't get that concrete.

Corey Bunje Bower said...

Rachel: Doing "what 'regular' schools can't with the same resources" fits exactly within my fourth category. Maybe I should have said "work harder or smarter" or "do more with less" or something a little more apt than what I wrote, but it what you describe is exactly what I intended to describe in the last category.

Somebody could have an abstract idea that lacks concreteness and, therefore, fits in none of these categories but I was trying to describe the types of reforms that have actually occurred or been proposed.

Rachel said...

At the risk of sounding grumpy, which I don't mean to be, I think when a category gets to be something as broad as "work harder/smarter" or "do more with less," it becomes pretty much meaningless. Of course it would help to work smarter, but the question is how? Can we even agree on which parts of the current system are "dumb."

For example, my daughter has state testing next week. She tells me that the next three days of her Language Arts class are going to be devoted to test practice. Is that dumb?

Claus von Zastrow said...

Where would an approach like Core Knowledge fit--or any other reform that sees access to the best curriculum and instruction as key to closing the gaps?

Give them the same, but work harder and smarter?

Anonymous said...

Your categories seems reasonable; we've tried them and rightly so, since all have necessary elements.

While I think there are other important elements, I think a missing strategy that would be easy to do is the use of marketing to emphasize the responsibility, the discipline, and the joys of education, as well as the variety of careers available.

I remember reading that Mexico increased the number of people getting a high school diploma when a character on a major soap opera got her GED, or the Mexican equivalent.

I would love to see celebrities talk about the books they are reading, for example. And scientists who are working on cures for AIDS and new energy sources, etc., could be interviewed linking what they are doing to their high school math and science classes.

Education should elevate us, and we need students to see this, feel this, and experience it.

I would also love more community involvement in schools: Scientists, engineers, doctors, attorneys talking to students about the skills they should be working on. This would establish connections that are important to the community as well as the students.

Corey Bunje Bower said...

CvZ: I'm not sure that Core Knowledge is explicitly an attempt to close the achievement gap. Is the program only aimed at low-income students?