On the Issue of Achievement Gaps

On the Issue of Achievement Gaps

Each individual has a sensory learning style that allows for optimum absorption and processing of knowledge based on the connection to the student’s auditory, visual or tactile centers of the brain. This is the key to bridging learning gaps. To foster accelerated learning, and allow students to ‘catch up’ to higher performing peers in their age group, the system has to organize classes based on learning style and then teach to the learning style with state-of-the-art methods.

DCPS should launch a pilot program to implement small group learning aimed at developing individual creativity and love for knowledge. Methods used in independent schools may be effective at fostering accelerated development. Use of the Harkness Table, for instance,is a method in which an oval table seating 11 students is the centerpiece of a classroom. Students are involved in a collaborative discussion of material and the teacher demonstrates how to learn as well as what to learn. Early childhood implementation of this system could revolutionize classroom experiences for our children.

Harkness Tables originated at Exeter Academy in 1931 when philanthropist Edward Harkness challenged the Exeter faculty to create an innovative way of teaching. The purpose of the Harkness Table was to make class more involving. The 1930s faculty also understood that Harkness Tables would make being smart more fun. They knew that discussing even your least favorite subject around the Harkness Table would make that subject more interesting. But did they know that the Harkness Table would teach students to collaborate rather than compete with each other inside and outside class? And did they know that it would make the whole community respect one another’s ideas and become a safer place to learn and live? (Duke TIP Digest of Gifted Research)

Our broadcast discussion on 12/20/2012 touched on a description of the social and psychological challenges inherent in being smart. We have arrived in the era where fostering a new urban value system that embraces exceptional school performance requires us to confront the hard issues arising from the definition of what it means to be ‘cool’ or acceptable within the social peer group. Is it safe to be smart in the African American community? Do we value learning to the same degree as our peers in other groups? Are we really cognizant of how lack of education plays into limited life choices later on? Who gets to start this dialogue and what are the potential pitfalls? Do we have the courage to ask the questions, and will God help us face the answers?

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When Disrespect is the Status Quo

I admit it, I’m fascinated by the national celebrity status recently conferred on DC School Chancellor Michelle Rhee. With the powerful Oprah Winfrey media machine and the blessing of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, she appears headed for an illustrious career as the national poster girl for educational reform.

There’s only one problem:

The objectively quantifiable data shows that her efforts have hurt student progress in District of Columbia Public Schools.

Math Proficiency Scores:

-14 schools are worse off in 2010 than in 2007 with declines as high as 25% and an average of 8%
-41 schools are worse off in 2010 than in 2008, with declines as high as 35% and an average of 11%
-61 schools (52% of all schools) are worse off in 2010 than in 2009, with declines as high as 30% and an average of 10%

Reading Proficiency Scores:

-40 schools are worse off in 2010 than in 2007, with declines as high as 45% and an average of 6%
-58 schools are worse off in 2010 than in 2008, with declines as high as 36% and an average if 9%
-66 schools (56% of all schools) are worse off in 2010 than in 2009, with declines as high as 41% and an average of 9%

(source withheld)

Other performance facts:

-AYP (Annual Yearly Progress) under Leave no Child Behind, results for DCPS: 10 schools achieved AYP in 2010 a 70% decrease from 2009, when 34 achieved AYP.

-The achievement gap between White and African-American 4th grade students for Math has increased to a 58 point gap in 2009 from a 53 point gap in 2007.

-DCPS tested 14% fewer African-America children in 2009 indicating that many African-American families are leaving DCPS for charter or private schools.

-Since 2007 DC School construction shows favoritism toward Wards 2 and 3, where outlays average between $118 and $152 per sq. ft. compared to Wards 7 and 8 where expenditures drop between $40 and $54 per sq. ft.

(source withheld)

The truth is that systemic educational reform is holistic in nature. The history, economic development, and social structure of the student population has to be accommodated before lasting change occurs.

Positive educational outcomes for all children require analysis of the learning styles, and teaching strategies that work best for each demographic group. I strongly urge that educators study a focus group created by DCPS in the 1970’s called The Innovation Team, which was formed to study the challenges and opportunities specific to Urban education.

Washington, D.C. was decimated by the crack and gun wars of the 1980’s and 90’s, and some of those lost were among our most vibrant, creative and intellectually curious. Domestic and educational policy of the Reagan Bush years has had the effect of stifling the momentum of the 1970’s as related to Black consciousness and upward mobility. The collective psychological development of the Black community is diminished as a result. The children we see in the classroom today are essentially postwar survivors, yet we haven’t developed a plan that faces that excruciating truth. The sick joke is to send Rhee here, to insult and demean and blame our community for failing to effectively protect our young people.

If Oprah cares, and I believe she might, if properly informed, she needs to focus, not on personalities and style and money, but on history. Refugee and post-war children around the world have to be nurtured in a very focused way to be returned to their natural brilliance.