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Achievement Gap

The Achievement Gap Starts Before Conception!

George Bush’s claim to fame is being an Education President. No Child Left Behind is a testimonial to all educators and child development professionals that the people in charge don’t have a clue as to what the needs of our children are and don’t have a clue as to what goes on in our schools.

The label  “Achievement Gap” is the first thing that needs clarification from a teacher’s perspective. It should be labeled the  “Opportunity Gap” because not everyone in our society has the opportunity to be born on third base.

The most accurate statement regarding the Opportunity Gap is the saying that “George Bush was born on third base and thought he got a triple”. In our elitist society it is where you start out in life that has more influence on where you fit in the Achievement Gap than the ability to pull yourself up by your boot straps. Especially when you can’t afford or aren’t allowed to wear boots.

I am writing this article in hopes of clarifying what I see as the reasons for some students, and some schools, being successful and others not.

We can sometimes blame the schools. We can sometimes blame the parents. We can sometimes blame the politicians. There is enough incompetence to go around for everyone.

Schools are not in a vacuum. We cannot talk about school failure, or success, without talking about the influences of parents and politicians. We also cannot talk about school failure or success as a group process, because as individuals we all have specific strengths and weaknesses.

Major correlations to success in school and the achievement gap between non-whites and whites include more items that are not related to school than items that are related to school. Such as: parent participation, student mobility, birth weight, lead poisoning, hunger and nutrition, reading at home, television watching, parent availability, single parent household, educational level of mother, age of mother at birth, income level, race, and of course public policy. These correlations can help explain why some students that seem to have everything stacked against them are successful and some students that appear to have everything going for them are not successful.

I see the “blame” as three equally important and influential rings overlapping at the middle, each interacting and influencing the other.

The first ring can be the parents. This includes both biological and environmental influences. The biological makeup (DNA) of each person is very specific. A large component of this makeup is determined by the biological makeup of the parents and of their parents. The same can sometimes be said for the environmental makeup of a student. Young children learn by modeling. “A child’s parents are his or her first and foremost teacher”. I read this quote around twenty years ago and I still see how powerful it is today.

The second ring can be labeled public policy. This would include how our society functions as a result of too many corporate ruled politicians. Irresponsible public policy that affects many social domains outside of the schools, ends up affecting a child’s performance in school. Irresponsible public policy is also directly dictating what goes on in our classrooms on a daily basis. Many corporate ruled politicians know little, and or care little, about educating our most needy students. An example is the “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) legislation. It’s policy is driven more by corporate like quarterly reports that are more concerned with testing, punishment, and privatization of public schools than developmentally appropriate practices.

The third ring is our public schools. They are not perfect. We can always do a better job in some schools in educating our children. We need to focus more on educating the whole child. NCLB, for example, has its focus exclusively on academic testing and development at the expense of social, emotional, creative, and physical development.

The public schools are also failing to let parents and the public know the truth about how schools alone cannot minimize the achievement gap between whites and non-whites. To close the gap completely is not possible. Not because we don’t care or our teachers and our children aren’t smart enough. The gap will never close because we are so different in human abilities, opportunities that are availiable, intelligence, and everything else that makes us unique individuals. Our schools need to be more honest about this.

Again, schools alone cannot close the achievement gap. It is crucial that schools, parents, and policy makers understand that the achievement gap starts even before the child’s conception.

Selected Readings:

Armstrong, Thomas (2006). The best schools. How human development research should inform educational practice.

Bredekamp, Sue and Copple, Carol, editors (1997). Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs, revised edition. A National Association for the Education of Young Children publication.

Bredekamp, Sue, editor (1987). Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children From Birth Through Age 8. A National Association for the Education of Young Children publication.

Hart, Betty and Risley, Todd (2000). Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children.

Hess, Frederick and Petrilli, Michael (2007). No Child Left Behind. The authors trace the history of NCLB policies, explain how they work, and examine the challenges of their implementation.

Kohn, Alfie (1999). The Schools Our Children Deserve, Moving beyond traditional classrooms and tougher standards.

Meier, Deborah and Wood, George, editors (2004). Many Children Left Behind, How the No Child Left Behind Act is damaging our children and our society.

National Research Council, Institute of Medicine (2000). From Neurons to Neighborhoods, The Science of Early Childhood development.

Rothstein, Richard (2004). Class and Schools. Using Social, Economics, and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap.



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