Often when we think of the achievement gap, we think of disparities based on ethnicity or socio-economic status on standardized tests including norm referenced and criterion referenced measures of achievement. African-American and Hispanic students are usually represented among students at the lower end of the achievement gap and also represented among students at the lowest levels of the socio-economic strata. This correlation is important to examine when analyzing and addressing the achievement gap.
While focus on academic standards, revising common core standards and excellent teaching are all important for improving student performance on standardized measures of achievement the continuing vexing problem of underachievement among large numbers of African-American and Hispanic students will not significantly change unless there is a significant, sustained, serious,, non-political systemic approach to addressing the psycho-educational and social and emotional learning needs of these students.
We are literally at the same place we were decades ago, discussing the same issues and trying the same recycled solutions under different nomenclature. In fact, in many ways the problem of underachievement has gotten much worse and the risk of losing generations of children to lives of failure and hopelessness and gangs and violence has increased exponentially. It does not appear that the decision-makers and policy formulators grasp the gravity of the situation.
Of course we have some different approaches such as charter schools, choice programs, magnet schools etc. But listen, the magnitude of the problem calls for a massive solution; major structural changes that impact very large numbers of underachieving students. These approaches seem to have some measurable impact on small numbers of selected at-risk students but the impact is not large enough and not sustained enough and not significant enough to change the frightening trends.
In short we need a domestic marshal plan; a socio-educational transformational revolution that is outside of the failed educational box that students are and have been in for far too long. Perhaps we have not done anything truly revolutionary in education because of the persistent belief that underachievement is in large part a function of unmotivated and incapable students, inept teaching, irresponsible and detached parenting. dysfunctional home environments and natural selection. These beliefs and our failure to act with urgency are serious blunders that will cost us dearly in decades to come.
Now I know there are those who would say that I am a pessimist. Well, I admit that unless we move quickly and with urgency to do more than charter schools and choice programs and magnet schools; unless we revolutionize our concept of education and learning and teaching and student engagement; unless we marshalize failing communities I would be an admitted pessimist about the future for millions of underachieving students.
In the meantime however, each of us must do what we can to make a difference for every student with whom we come into contact. We must empower each child, each youth to take as much control of his or her life as he or she can. Helping each student to recognize the power within and to take steps to maximize that power can begin to narrow the achievement gap student by student; child by child; school by school. This is not large enough, systemic enough; not revolutionary enough but it is necessary enough
Norris M. Haynes, PH.D.