How do you close the achievement gap? That “gap” being a polite way of saying Blacks and Latinos typically score below Whites and Asians on such measurements as state and national public school test scores, SATS, college admissions and graduation rates, and the like.
Up front, several observations should be made. First of all, there are some historical considerations. One, it tends to limit a group of people to be stuck in slavery for more than two centuries and then become emancipated into segregated, second class citizen roles. All the while, the power structure, white males, were passing on and adding to their wealth and privilege generation after generation. Then, of course, we have another group of children whose parents come to this land not speaking English. It tends to hamper your test scores when you take tests in a language that is not your native tongue and is not spoken at home. Then, add to that, the inevitable depressed conditions of many inner-city neighborhoods and the concomitant conditions such as unsafe playgrounds, no after-school programs, few or no preschools, overcrowded schools, under-funded curricula, and so on.
Additionally there are the issues of neighborhood gangs, drugs, crime, homelessness, unemployment, single parent families, lack of healthcare and nutrition programs for children, a paucity of college graduates in the home, and there are others too. All of this contributes to a self-perpetuating condition.
Thus, to close “the achievement gap” would require a far more caring society than we currently manifest. We would, for example, be required to acknowledge that vast disparities exist, that vast new funding is needed to address these disparities, and that “we the people” need to provide those funds. Anything short of a major commitment won’t work and will simply relegate another generation of children to the we-don’t-care world of negative statistics.
If, as a nation, we were capable of feeling shame, we would need look no further than the aforementioned “achievement gap” and the conditions which foster and perpetuate that gap decade after decade. If we wished to find solutions we would take several actions:
1. Stop seeking tax cuts and come to the simple realization that revenue is required to fund reform.
2. Look at the very best schools in America, both private and public and identify the conditions of their success; replicate these conditions as extensively as possible in the lowest performing and highest poverty areas.
3. Improve teaching conditions all across the county – i.e., reduce class size, make campuses safe, and increase teachers’ salaries to attract top graduates.
4. Reduce drop-outs by providing more engaging and expanded curricula. Cutting programs to save money is ultimately self-defeating. Students who are denied arts classes, field trips, environmental and community service programs, athletics, and human development classes become more easily disengaged and more likely to drop out. But to give public schools curricular blood transfusions will require additional funding.
These are but a few, though I believe, major solutions. We kid ourselves when we think our existing schools and school systems will somehow miraculously fix themselves. The mess they are in is largely societal and can only be fixed at a higher level than the poor struggling schools themselves. They need help now. Substantial help. Much of this reform can be made possible by revenue.