Closing the Achievement Gap: “All Children Can Learn”
“How many examples of successful schools do you need to observe before you are convinced that children from low-income families can be educated? If your answer is more than one, then I would suggest that you have reasons of your own that lead you to prefer to believe that student performance is derived from family background rather than the school’s response to family background. We are able to successfully instruct any and all children whose educational development piques our interest whenever and wherever we see fit. Already, we have more information than is necessary for doing that. How we feel about the fact that we haven’t done it up to this point must ultimately determine whether or not we will do it.” — Ronald Edmonds, Faculty Member at Harvard University
Bringing About an End to the Achievement Gap
Respondents to a recent poll conducted by Edutopia on the topic of closing the achievement gap correctly acknowledged that there is no one magic solution that will result in the elimination of the pernicious gaps in achievement that deprive students of the opportunity to fully participate in American society. The survey probes were supported by a significant number of the educators, parents, and community members, who also came up with a list of convincing suggestions for bridging the gaps.
The results of a research and literature review that document best practises show that they align well with the opinions of a significant number of poll respondents. It seems to me that we have the ability to close gaps whenever and wherever we choose thanks to the large body of evidence. The larger question, which was brought up by survey respondent Tere, is very similar to the question that the late Ronald Edmonds, who was an education professor at Harvard University, brought up almost thirty years ago. Tere is the one who poses the question: “Now the issue is, are we ready and willing to do this?”
Nearly all teachers have heard of the rallying cry “All children can learn,” which was popularised by Edmonds. We are also aware that in order for this to take place, certain conditions need to be met. These conditions include, but are not limited to, providing access to high-quality preschool programmes, routinely exposing students to high-quality instruction, generating support from families and communities, and consistently scaling up implementation of best-practice instructional strategies and approaches in all educational settings.
Those educational institutions and school districts that are able to successfully implement these and other high-leverage strategies with fidelity are seeing positive results. The obstacle that must be overcome in order to close the achievement gap in the United States has less to do with a lack of knowledge and more to do with a lack of will, which is visible in every facet of American society. It would appear that our long-standing failure to educate succeeding generations of children is still regarded as an acceptable outcome; why else would we put up with such a massive loss of potential in human beings?
This is disgusting, and it is time to disprove the myths that serve as justifications for the actions being taken. It is time to stop blaming the victims, relying on factors outside of school to excuse our performance in school, and buying into the nonsense that narrowing the achievement gap is a problem for which there is no solution.
The lack of willpower is the primary obstacle to generating the focus, energy, and resources necessary to overcome the dominant belief system. This belief system casts doubt on the ability of children from low-income families, children of colour, and children with limited English-speaking proficiency to master rigorous academic content. It also casts doubt on the ability of responsible adults to make a difference in the conditions inside and beyond the schoolhouse that are required to support gap-closing strategies and interventions. The willpower gap is the primary barrier to overcoming this The question that Edmonds posed in 1979, “How many effective schools would you have to see to be persuaded of the educability of poor children?” is just as relevant today as it was then.
The evidence continues to accumulate, making it abundantly clear that schools, school districts, and communities that have the will and passion to make a difference in the outcomes for all students have been successful in closing gaps. This success can be seen in the fact that gaps have been successfully closed.
The groundbreaking work done by Edmonds led to the identification of schools that serve children and families who are the most socially isolated, marginalised, and economically disadvantaged, and which have been successful in their efforts to raise the academic achievement of their students. (To read this very important article, “Revolutionary and Evolutionary: The Effective Schools Movement,” written by Lawrence W. Lezotte, you can download it as a PDF by clicking here.)
It has been meticulously documented that James Comer’s groundbreaking work with many high-poverty schools using the School Development Program as the anchor for their improvement efforts has been successful in pointing the way to the resolution of problems that are not successfully addressed in many schools that fail to improve outcomes for their students. These schools are not successful in improving the educational opportunities available to their students.
The idea that “smart is not something you are; smart is something you can become” was proposed by Dr. Jeff Howard, the founder of the Efficacy Institute. Dr. Howard has several decades of research and frontline experience to support this theory. According to Howard, the components necessary to foster high achievement are efficacy, effective effort, high expectations, high-quality curriculum, and good instruction. He argues that these are the necessary components.
Because of Robert Moses’s Algebra Project, a significant number of students who might have been doomed to an experience limited to the most fundamental mathematical skills are now able to achieve success in algebra. The project has challenged more than 10,000 students across nearly thirty different school districts. It is abundantly clear that we are aware of what needs to be done because the list continues to grow (it includes names like Robert Marzano, Doug Reeves, Linda Darling-Hammond, Lauren Resnick, Belinda Williams, Joseph Johnson, and Ron Ferguson, amongst many others).
You can find information about schools and school districts that have improved the academic performance of students who many people believe are difficult to teach by going to the website of the Education Trust, which is an advocacy group based in Washington, District of Columbia. The educators of previous generations did not have access to a significant amount of the information that is now at our fingertips. The research that serves as the foundation for teaching and learning has seen significant advancement over the years, and as a result of advances in technology, descriptions of effective teaching practises are now more easily accessible. We have many examples of strategies and interventions that have been shown to be effective in educating children and youth who, according to the beliefs of many people in our schools and communities, are not capable of being educated at higher levels.
It would be illogical for me to argue that we shouldn’t keep working on our research agenda, so I won’t do that. Even with all that we know about learning, pedagogy, brain function, motivation theory, and biochemistry, there is still more to learn that will help us become even better at diagnosing the needs of learners and coming up with effective solutions to address those needs. Even though further study is required, we already have sufficient information to make a difference for the children who will be attending our schools over the next few weeks. The empirical evidence is undeniable, indisputable, unwavering, and unquestionably convincing. It is no longer a problem that we don’t know what to do; the problem is that we lack the will to do that which is known to have a positive impact on closing gaps. This is a problem that has existed for quite some time.
Children from low-income families, children of colour, children with limited English proficiency, and children from any other background who are negatively impacted by disadvantage are just as capable as children from any other family in our society. They are capable of achieving academic success and mastering difficult subject matter. Alibis, excuses, and exceptions are not going to be tolerated under any circumstances! Yes, there are a great number of factors that need to be taken into consideration in order to eliminate the effects of being economically disadvantaged in a privileged and prosperous society. This is an important piece of work that, if completed, would make the job of educators somewhat simpler. However, as educators, we cannot allow the failings of society to impede our ability to respond appropriately to the urgent requirements of children and young people.
Educators all over the country are aware of and comprehend the fact that our work is the result of a moral imperative to establish a society that is equitable and just. In collaboration with parents, communities, and other strategic partners, educators driven by a sense of mission have helped to develop a body of knowledge regarding the actions that schools can take to be more effective in bridging the achievement gap.
I would like to express my gratitude to Spiral Notebook for sparking an important community conversation centred on the topic of bridging the achievement gap. My participation in an ongoing conversation that is taking place through the postings on the blog was inspired by the respondents. I am looking forward to engaging in conversation with you over the course of the next few months on a variety of topics related to enhancing the academic performance of all students.
Let’s investigate the options we have for mustering the motivation to get the job done for the sake of our children and young people. The contribution of educators, students, parents, members of the community, and others is encouraged in order to ensure the diversity required to arrive at a shared understanding of what must be done to stop the waste of potential that is so obvious when we allow massive gaps in achievement to persist. Educators, students, parents, and community members are among those who are encouraged to contribute.