Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Closing the Achievement Gap

In the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress results, the gap between Black and Latina/o fourth graders and their counterparts in reading scaled scores was more than 26 points. In fourth grade mathematics, the gap was more than 20 points. These gaps persist over time (Ladson-Billings, 2006).

Without genetic or other immutable traits that could conceivably be the cause of the gap, the problem is one that can and should be solved (Singham, 2003).

Addressing the historical educational disparities is important because it has implications for the kinds of lives we can live and the kind of education the society can expect for most of its children (Ladson-Billings, 2006).

Gloria Ladson-Billings proposes understanding the achievement gap using the metaphor of national debt versus national deficit. She sees some "metaphorical concurrences between our national fiscal situation and our educational situation." The achievement gap is tantamount to the national deficit, defined as spending exceeding income over a period of time. She asserts that what is actually happening to students of color is really more like the national debt, defined as the sum of all previously incurred annual federal deficits. The educational debt is an accumulation of the historical, economic, and sociopolitical disparities and moral debt. Specifics include laws forbidding students of color from learning to read and from attending colleges. Before the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Black, Latina/o and Native communities had little to no access to the franchise, so they had no true legislative representation. Indeed, a major aspect of the modern civil rights movement was the quest for quality schooling - a great show of passion and effective action toward addressing a social problem. Taken together, these debts amassed toward minority youth may seem insurmountable. Ladson-Billings quotes, "just because something is impossible does not mean it is not worth doing."

Important questions remain: Why then has the problem not been solved? Will the gap between minority and white students inspire groups of people to engage in an effort to effect change?

If a universal education reform policy can improve the achievement gap, then it is a win-win situation politically and pedagogically. The challenge is that it takes a serious effort to provide all-around good teaching and black students receive a disproportionate amount of poor teaching. Good teaching requires intensive efforts of professional development over ten years (Singham, 2003).

Ladson-Billings (2006) asks us to imagine that an examination of the achievement performance of children of color provoked an immediate reassignment of the nation's best teachers to the schools serving the most needy students.

Personally, I have seen such schools in South Los Angeles. South Los Angeles and the excellence at these schools inspired me to work towards being the best school social worker I could be. The students and families in South LA merit our very best and brightest selves, staff and schools, community organizations and infrastructure, and good jobs with a living wage.

It is possible.

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