Closing achievement gaps in diverse and low-poverty schools – an analysis

Despite millions of dollars in funding to support closing achievement gaps, many efforts fail. After more than a decade of working in this field and seeing the same cycles continue, I would claim that the efforts often fail for a variety of reasons, including: a lack of root cause analysis, not aligning solutions to the root causes, lack of structural and systemic changes, and failure to implement with fidelity (note- all areas in which the adults are responsible).

A new report, Closing Achievement Gaps in Diverse and Low-Poverty Schools, from the Oak Foundation and Public Impact unpacks some of these issues. There are so many good pieces of information in this this report. So many, that I can’t summarize them. This report is a must read, as it examines systemic issues, structural/technical implementation issues, and connects to policies and practice.

The report highlights why closing achievement gaps and fighting for equity is such hard work. It’s not a quick fix to buy a program or bring in a consultant, but it requires a multi-faceted approach with a toolbox of programs, strategies, and changes. It requires going through the phases of the continuous improvement cycle, developing strong goals, building out an implementation plan, and monitoring (and making mid-course corrections) along the way. To do all of this requires strong capable leaders who can push change, while also engaging with the stakeholders to communicate the why and how. This work is not for the faint of heart.

Some of the findings and statements that I find particularly relevant include:

  • “Today, the achievement gap between low-income students and their more affluent peers is approximately twice as large as the racial achievement gap between white and African-American children.” (pg 8)
  • “Moreover, the income achievement gap for reading between children born in the mid-1990s to late 1990s is nearly 40 percent larger than the gap among children born in the 1970s.” (pg 8)
  • “Many school systems continue to operate discipline systems that suspend and expel students of color at higher rates than white students. Large-scale studies have shown that this cannot be explained by differential rates of serious infractions. Year after year, these systems keep students of color out of classrooms, perpetuating inequities.” (pg 9)
  • “Given the deep roots of achievement gaps, districts will not find a quick fix or a simple checklist of policies and practices that will close them. Instead, addressing achievement gaps successfully requires committing deeply to equity, engaging with the community to understand its needs and perspectives, taking persistent and complete action steps to change, and being accountable to the community for equitable outcomes. Only within a context of commitment, engagement, action, and accountability can districts expect the research-based policies and practices we outline below to have a meaningful and lasting impact.” (pg 14)

In conclusion, the authors write that “a district must be willing to commit to equity, engage families and the community, take a complete set of actions to fulfil the commitment, and embrace accountability for success” (pg 22). The authors are on point throughout the piece and all district and state education professionals who aspire to close any and all achievement gaps should would benefit from the findings in this piece.

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