Tuesday, April 21, 2015

How to Close the Achievement Gap Today

The gap between those who have and those who do not continues to grow. It separates the rest of society’s chances to get access to the best education. Ultimately the outcome of the socioeconomic disparity is growth in the achievement gap. The future is affected by every student that is sitting in class disenchanted with the education that they are receiving. The future of education is now. While some say standardized testing provides good information to change a failing school others say it is a distraction to the learning process. Some teachers are forced to teach to the test and this does not result a better school.  Principals and teachers jobs are lost based on test scores.  Educators and parents need to make a serious effort to close the achievement gap by working together.

Some say there is a lack of parent involvement. Parents face many socioeconomic challenges that limit their participation. It takes a whole community working together to build a bridge that connects the children to the right education experience. If you live in a state where early childhood education is not supported your children’s chances of reading at grade level is limited. It’s time to close the achievement gap today by improving education all along the K12 experience. Too many school districts are fighting an uphill battle to survive.  In subsequent paragraphs you will find suggestion for closing the achievement gap.

Bold School Leadership
Some school districts are constantly unstable which causes a crisis in leadership. Principals across school districts are added and removed throughout the school year. Some principal’s don’t know what teachers will work in their build during the school year.  Teachers may change from one year to the next. A person may be trained for leadership but they need consistency among their teachers to organize an effective school. If the principal and teachers are working together a lot can be accomplished and students can earn better grades. It can also help to reduce the achievement gap because the students have the same teachers throughout the school year.  I have heard about one school  that had three math teachers in one year.  You cannot expect a child to learn with that kind of instability.

Effective leadership on the part of a principal can help to close some of the doors that limit a student’s ability to go to college. All principals that work at schools in each city need to regularly come together and think of solutions that they can implement. The principals must be united in to see better outcomes for the children who are in their school district. The student should have an awareness that their principal has a plan to improve how they perform. Principals must know that they must sacrifice their time and continually gain more knowledge to make their school the best that it can be.

To close the achievement gap a written and measurable plan must be followed  in order to reduce student absenteeism. There are a number of issues that plague students who are frequently absent. These students often face adverse health issues, some students have persistent problems with asthma or stress that cause students to be more susceptible to sicknesses.  There may be abuse going on in their home and it has not been investigated.  A significant number of students are no longer interested in school and there are no parents at home who can inspire them to excel while in school.
Every effort must be made to overcome the challenges of decreasing the amount of student absenteeism.  There should be an assessment of the patterns of absenteeism that exists in certain neighborhoods.  The data can be used to come up with new strategies to resolve issues that absent students face and each day. Getting students to attend school is important because the research says that when students don’t show up for school their grades are affected. This student can easily become disillusioned with school and dropout.  School districts must find more creative ways to catch up with students and their parents to offer them solutions. It takes a team effort to send a message to families that you want their child to succeed in school. School districts must be aware that some parents are on the move in terms of their place of residence throughout the school year.  Most parents want their children in school every day but moving to survive affects their child’s attendance. There must be an easy process for a child to transfer to a new school.

There must be many communication access points to keep the school district informed about a child’s absenteeism issues.  Some schools have a call in telephone number in place on their website or a parent can call and talk to someone live. Some parents may use a library to communicate with the school over the Internet.  Effective communication may take time when a parent moves to a new neighborhood. The best results will come with the school districts that have multiple ways to communicate regarding student absenteeism. The school district must have a plan that will address the absenteeism issue while also helping students to be motivated about attending school.

Health Issues

One cannot ignore the health issues that often plague students who are in the United States. Students suffer issues like asthma, diabetes and teen pregnancy to name a few. All of these issues can contribute to the gap in the academic achievement of the students. These students may end up in an emergency room prior to a test and they may feel out of it when they do retain return to school to take their test. Depending on the illness it may take several days to get back to school. If the student does not have a computer at home they must have parents who can help them to get their assignments.  A good student may turn in an assignment late due to their illness. Parents who have children with several health issues can feel overwhelmed.

There needs to be a citywide coordinated effort to respond to health issues that are happening in the community. When a young person has a baby it can hinder her ability to continue school unless there is a health advocate in place to help the student. She could be a student who had good grades before the pregnancy. She should not be penalized. Schools should not count her as a loss because she cannot return to school right away.  Educators should always find multiple ways that a student can return school. There must be a coordinated effort with the school nurse and other public health agencies.  There should be a health plan in place so that the principal has the help that they need with the students who have health issues.

Each month parents need information about health solutions and other resources. It is better to help parents to take a preventative approach to healthcare rather than awaiting the next crisis. A lot students do not have the right glasses some parents do not have enough money to take care of their need for new glasses.   The Philadelphia Eagles football team has a bright idea they have their own truck with doctors who the provide glasses for children. We need to make a big investment in how our children’s health is monitored and resolved.  Closing the achievement  gap must include a healthcare plan that works.

Parent Engagement

The socioeconomic condition of parents is an ongoing factor in the expansion of the achievement gap. There are economic factors such as income inequality and homes where there is only one income coming that limits a parents aspirations for their child.  Some parents may remember their own experience with their local school and decide that their participation will not make a difference. They do not realize that they are their child’s first teacher. Spending time communicating with their child is more work but is worth the investment.  A student whose parent is reading to their child every day  significantly at increases their chances for success.

It is important to consider how to close the achievement gap as an ongoing part of the school plan. In order to succeed there must be several different ways to get parents involved in schools academic life. My suggestion is finding ways to meet parents where they are. For example the school principal should consider all of the events where parents typically show up. It can be exporting event, a school play or something is happening at a community center. This may require more time but is it worth the investment. This is a signal to the local community that the principal and the teachers at a particular school really care about how well the students perform.

This is the day to get started with new ideas and programs to get parents excited about their role at their child’s school. You want to get all the parents involved in some way. There could be a conference call, workshop or online chat about things that are happening at the school. Identify a parent who is very committed to talk to school administrators and teachers and get them involved in all the parent initiatives. Another approach would be getting one parent from each class to participate in the Parent Taecvher Association (PTA).  If this happens you will have a significant level of participation throughout your school. There is a possibility that you could have 30 to 40 parents involved.  If you get one parent from each class you are increasing your parent engagement and changing the school environment. This will be a great strategy for close the achievement gap because parents could be an active part of their student’s success.


Closing the achievement gap will require innovative leadership and a commitment to changing how students learn. The principal at a school must find a creative way to address multiple issues. Students should know that they are welcome in the school and that they can benefit from instruction that is happening throughout the day. We cannot continue to allow the achievement gap to expand. This is time for the entire American community to come together to address a crisis issue. There needs to be more than a national dialogue about closing the achievement gap this is a time for action. The future is in our hands now and we have an opportunity to expose students to the new careers that can change the socio-economic conditions of students who graduate from high school  or who pursue a post secondary education .

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Dr. Stephen Jones is an education advocate and consultant who has published three books the Seven Secrets of How to Study, the Parent’s Ultimate Education Guide and the Ultimate Scholarship Guide at http://www.DrStephenJones.net or Learn@DrStephenJones.net.

1 comment:

  1. One cannot understand what a tiger is in a zoo. The opportunity for that tiger to be all that that tiger can be does not exist. Also, it is understood that boredom is stress, which is the capacity of the child not being fully employed- using all executive function.
    Thus, by design, our public schools as a social experiment, is it working? Children need direct interaction, our schools are knowledge-and-information-without-practical-application-direct-instruction models, something relatively new in human effort. Given the growing disorders existent, the outcome is what we are seeing, which is varying degrees of attention deficit disorders. Our inner experiential maps are not focused on practical living as physical beings. We are here, this is where we become adults.
    Also, financial structures that limit choice and offer services that not only lack real hands on interaction and experience, but also teach what to think and how to think, because it is done through knowledge and information only, create a very limited one size fits all scenario, where we return to the tiger in the zoo/cage scenario. It does no work, it cannot work. At least, if each parent/family has their basic needs stabilized, as in a Basic Income Guarantee, each parent would have a moment to come out of survival stress mode and have the space and time to give the attention to their child needed, even taking joy within this.
    Thus, continuing to do the same thing again and again expecting different results is a form of not looking at the parts and the whole and the intrinsic designs that are the starting point of the problem.