The Achievement Gap

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Three simple words that can silence a room almost as quickly as they are uttered. We all know it exists. We’ve known for quite some time now. But it’s not going away. In fact, it appears to be widening in many areas.

And it’s not as if we aren’t giving it attention. We’ve thrown money at it to see if it that would work. That had little to no effect. We’ve had educators receive professional development led by “experts” that we just knew would do the trick. Strike two. We’ve even begun, in the last two presidencies, collecting disaggregated data in the hopes that increased vigilance and accountability would somehow be the silver bullet we’d been looking for. Strike three.

Now what?

I for one, believe that we are going about this all wrong. My concern is that, we are so focused on being politically correct, that we have lost sight of doing what is right. For kids that is. Sure, we can say that we are trying to narrow the gap and maybe that allows us to sleep better at night. But each of us knows that the gap will still be there in the morning when we wake up.

The recent emphasis on equity as opposed to equality has led us to believe that all students are getting what they need. But it’s going to take more than our current level of differentiation to accomplish what needs to be done. What needs to happen is going to look very different from what we are doing and it is going to require us to think outside of the box. More than anything, it’s going require us taking some hits.

And I think these are hits worth taking because our current efforts are not working.

I know that what I am about to say will not come as a surprise to many, if any.

But the children that walk through our doors each morning are coming to us with vastly different levels of preparedness. Simply put, many of the kids we serve each day are just not ready for what it is we are putting them through. Yet, we act as if a tweak here or a tweak there will help them make it through the day.

Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I’m here to tell you that (a) they’re not making it through the day and (b) just making it through does not help narrow gaps. This is my 20th year in education and in all of my years I have never seen children enter school with as many social, emotional and physical needs as I do today. The current level of need absolutely blows me away!

We say Maslow before Bloom, but somehow Bloom always wins out. I would estimate that about 90% of my school day is spent helping students who are not ready for school cope and make it to the last bell. And believe me, it is extremely difficult for both of us. Many students in this country need more something different than what we are providing them.

It’s not as of our students aren’t trying to tell us. Some cry, some scream, some kick, some run, some sleep and some fight. We think that this is by choice. But let’s get real. Most of these students are crying out for help. They are tired. They are hungry. They are angry. They are stressed. They have cortisol levels that are off the charts.

And yet we expect them to conduct themselves like their peers and achieve at the same levels as their peers? Get the f*$% outta here! Their peers don’t have to deal with any of the issues that they do. Yet, and here is where things get tricky. If we even hint at having different expectations for these students then we are accused of showing prejudice. We are told that we do not believe that all students can achieve.

I for one, do believe that all students can achieve. And for the most part, I believe that all students have the potential to achieve at high levels.

But…

We must work to give all students a fighting chance. But we are not. It’s as if we are sending kids out to play tackle football without a helmet and without pads. Sure, they get to be on the field. And some may even make out okay. But most won’t. And as each day passes, they become more battered and more bruised. Yet they keep coming back because they are told they have to. And this is when gaps begin to form.

What do I have in mind, you ask. It will look different for each child. And it will take some time, but I believe it is possible. Here is a list of ways I think we can get there:

  • Begin each day with 30 minutes of rigorous exercise
  • Provide a comfortable and safe place for students that lack sleep to get some extra sleep.
  • Help students reduce their cortisol levels when they enter school so they don’t start their day angry
  • Spend as much time building inter/intrapersonal skills as we do math, reading and writing skills
  • End each day celebrating accomplishments and setting goals for the future

I believe the only way to close and eliminate the achievement gap is to make sure that all students are fully equipped. As I mentioned earlier, this will involve us taking some hits early.

So what?

If it means that more students are successful then I say bring it on.

We can’t worry about being politically correct.

We can’t what it looks like if we find that one group needs more help than others.

We can’t worry about what outsiders say.

We must remember that our number one priority is to fully equip all students so that they are able to run out onto the field and compete.

The bottom line is that we must start doing what is best for kids and stop doing what looks best for adults.

From now on the rule is Maslow before Bloom, always!

In those days, we finally chose to walk like giants and hold the world in arms grown strong with love. And there may be many things we forget in the days to come. But this will not be one of them.

Brian Andreas

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