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This is one of those controversial topics where people in power tread lightly. Why is there an achievement gap? What can be done to turn it around? In the Louisville area, we have potential school board officials running who have all the answers. (Wink Wink) Also, Spalding University has a new president who weighed in on this issue recently as well. No matter where you live in the country, I am sure this is a serious topic of conversation.
Unfortunately, I can't give you all the answers. There are books that have been written on the subject. One blog won't cover it. Regardless, here are some things I couldn't tell you when I was a teacher but can share with you now.
First, there are differences in people. We are not the same. All of us would acknowledge some people can run faster than others. There's no dispute some people can jump higher than others. But when we get to the reasoning that some people are naturally smarter than others; that's when a problem sets in.
Some people would blame the achievement gap on economics. There may be some truth to this; but here's the problem I have. Why were some of the poorest children I taught my most successful? Never in any class were the children of the wealthiest families in my top 5. Also, never were the children of the poorest families in my bottom 5.
Some people would blame the gap on the color of a person's skin. I can't agree with that either. When I was teaching at Portland Elementary, which is in a low income area, the top 3-4 students in my classroom each year were black.
Some people would blame it on school funding. In my humble opinion, this is a complete falsehood. Portland Elementary and Bates Elementary (the other Jefferson County school I taught) had fantastic materials. As of 2005, the Department of Education estimated that over $10,000 were spent per child in the country. To place that in perspective, St. Xavier and Trinity High School (in Louisville, Kentucky) cost roughly that amount to attend each year. St. Xavier and Trinity are also two of the best high schools in the state which places 99% of graduates in college. In my opinion, the best public high school in our area is duPont Manual. According to a recent article in the Courier Journal, it was determined 82% of their graduating seniors were college ready. The worst schools in Louisville were around 4%.
At the school where my child attends, the tuition is $4,200. An additional $400 is also required for book fees. Other Catholic schools in Louisville are comparable. It is a blue ribbon school which means it has been recognized as being in the top 10% of Catholic grade schools in the country. If the national average in the public schools is over $10,000 as of 2005, you would think the Catholic schools should raise their tuition substantially in order to keep up. Of course, this is simply not the case.
My education blog last week on ratio's would not even completely answer the achievement gap. Catholic and public schools have far too many students in their classroom to leave "no child left behind." (Of course, the pun is intended).
The only real answer I can give in regards to the achievement gap is this. The solution to the problem has either been reading this blog on their phone or in front of a computer right now. I mean literally RIGHT NOW. The answer is you and it always has been.
When kids entered my classroom, I could tell immediately which parents worked with their kids. They were bright, polite, and eager to learn. The backgrounds of the children were meaningless as long as they had parents who cared. This is why, in my opinion, the achievement gap will never close. Good parents simply won't allow it. If all the good parents would just lay down and quit, we would have a much better chance of solving the problem. Granted, the national test scores would plummet; but the gap would be closed.
People who are much brighter than your humble blog writer will disagree profusely. This may include people running for office and those who haven't been in a classroom. They'll give you all the answers you want to hear. These tactics were in play when I entered teaching. The only difference I can see is that some of the names have changed. Honestly, in 10 years, no matter who is elected to whatever school board or office, do you think the gap will significantly close? If so, I'd love to make a healthy wager with you.
There's no doubt I want to help close the achievement gap. My suggestions may fall on deaf ears but at least I can say, I tried. After all, you can't two step without a willing partner.
1. Bring back the neighborhood schools. The amount of time children spend on buses could be spent on homework and meaningful after school activities. It would save millions of dollars as well if anyone is counting. Parents would have a much better opportunity to be involved if the schools were closer to their homes.
2. All teachers who have worked 10 years in a classroom and have a proven track record of success (as defined by their principal) can have the opportunity to teach in a lower income neighborhood school. This decision would be compensated by an additional $10,000 per year raise. Of course, this would easily be paid because of the bus money no longer needed.
3. Students should take a basic skills test before going to kindergarten. (Yes, I can hear the cries already). If they do not pass it, they must sit out a year before entering kindergarten. My oldest child only went to kindergarten because it was two days a week. My youngest child will most likely be held out of formal schooling until age 6 no matter his skill set. There is a huge difference between a 5 year old and a 6 year old emotionally and mentally speaking. Holding out my younger child and having him compete with children who are 5 will be a huge advantage in favor of my child.
I know my ideas will not be implemented. Principals from high performing schools would never agree to losing their best teachers. Our teacher's union would most likely complain over the pay component as well. Finally, there would have to be an admission by higher ups that their busing idea never has and never will work. Ego may be the biggest obstacle in closing the achievement gap.
One last thought on this. If you are one of the parents who work with your children educationally, shame on you. Don't you see the problem you created?
Shameless plug time: The Wednesday blog will be a behavior issue we have faced or will face as parents. The topic is how to motivate an unmotivated child. Thanks so much for your time and I hope you will consider reading my blog again.