Saturday, January 29, 2011

Achievement/Opportunity Gap Recommendations

In 2009 the State formed the Achievement Gap Oversight and Accountability Committee to synthesize the findings and recommendations from the 2008 achievement gap studies. You can read their report and review their recommendations for yourself.

You will find that very few of them have any practical value. In fact, I'm not sure that any of them do. A lot of the so-called recommendations are merely goals (i.e. "Increase the on-time and extended graduation rates for African American students to reach
parity with the highest-performing demographic group by 2014 and to achieve a 100 percent graduation rate by 2018.
" Even the recommendations that are actually recommendations are too vague to be of much value (i.e. "To be effective, leaders must have high expectations of all students and teachers, and a high degree of awareness of their own culture and the culture of others.")

In short, the whole report is crap. It represents the utter failure of the public K-12 education industry in the face of this challenge. They simply cannot say anything real.

Here's what would be real:

To close the academic achievement/opportunity gap schools and districts must identify every student who is working below grade level and provide those students with early and effective interventions designed to accelerate the students' education so they are quickly brought to grade level. That intervention should be extended, intensive, and enriched.

It should include an extended school day, week and year. It should include extended time on task. For elementary students there should be a ninety-minute block each day for each of the core subjects: reading, writing, math and science. It should include an extended day starting with breakfast in the morning and running through after-school time in the afternoon. The extended day provide the additional time, outside of the core study periods for recess, PE, the arts, music, study skills, and enrichment activities. These students need a stable space for study and the school can provide it. Social studies can be incorporated into the reading and writing curriculum. It should include an extended week with Saturday school. It should include an extended year with summer school in June and a booster week before school starts for other students in the fall.

It should be intensive. It should have a smaller than usual class size. The work should have an accelerated pacing because the students need to cover more ground in the same amount of time as general education students. The students should be actively engaged for as much of the time as possible. There should be a sense of urgency and an aggressive schedule for reaching grade level for each student.

It should be enriched. This is not a punishment or a boot camp. In addition, studies show that a signficant portion of the opportunity gap is attributable to a lack of enrichment activities. So the program should include a lot of field trips: to the library, to the theater, to the beach, to the zoo, to the aquarium, to factories, to all sorts of places. These activities will fit into the extended day or week.

When the students have reached grade level they will be returned to a regular classroom. They should go back to the classroom near the median of academic range of their class, not at the bottom. They should arrive ready and able to engage with the grade level curriculum and succeed and with the study skills needed to maintain their academic ranking in the class. In addition, the student's future progress should be monitored by a mentor assigned to follow the student, meet with the student periodically, and provide support as needed.

This effort will cost more money than doing nothing. It will cost more than doing ineffective things. It will, however, close the academic achievement gap within a few years and it will keep it closed.

There is no secret to closing the gap. Set and maintain high expectations and provide students with the support they need to achieve those expectations.


Greg Linden said...

Charlie wrote, "It should include an extended year with summer school in June and a booster week before school starts for other students in the fall."

This is a great recommendation. There is strong evidence that much of the achievement gap is due to summer learning loss. See, for example:

"The Case Against Summer Vacation"

Quoting from that article:

While students made similar progress during the school year, regardless of economic status, the better-off kids held steady or continued to make progress during the summer, but disadvantaged students fell back. By the end of grammar school, low-income students had fallen nearly three grade levels behind, and summer was the biggest culprit. By ninth grade, summer learning loss could be blamed for roughly two-thirds of the achievement gap separating income groups.

anonymous said...

Once again, absolutely spot on Charlie!

mirmac1 said...

Nope, sorry. Makes too much sense. You get an F.

peonypower said...

nothing I would disagree with. RTI if executed would achieve much of what you propose.

I would clarify summer vacation learning set backs. Students who are better off have enrichment in summer. They go to camp, they travel, the go to museums and movies. Summer is not a loss for these students. The issue again is the opportunity gap.

Why can't we have enrichment opportunities for low income students. I strongly favor having summer break because it allows students to pursue their own interests. What books they like to read, projects they want to work on and time spent working independently greatly adds to student growth and learning. I know it is true for me as a learner, and having the opportunity to do this is invalulable for encourgaging creative and deep thought. What we have unfortunately are situations where students have no resources and so fall behind. Summer break is not evil poverty is.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I did a whole thread on this summer enrichment in the summer of 2010 based on a Newsweek article (which I think Greg is referring to). There are foundations out there that could help with this (hint: Alliance for Education could spend their money no better way especially since summer school is going to be cut).

Education is both simple and complex but Charlie sums it up well in his last paragraph (and I would add one sentence after it):

There is no secret to closing the gap. Set and maintain high expectations and provide students with the support they need to achieve those expectations. Education is one-on-one, intimate work. There is no silver bullet.

Anonymous said...

There are serious serious problems with all these ideas.

What are all the university and college of ed people going to do, if they're not busy coming up with new names for the same ol same ol?

What are the legions of program pooh-bahs in district headquarters going to do?

What are all those consultants going to do, now that their academic and bureaucratic buddies aren't paying them to justify the nonsense of the college and the nonsense of the headquarters?

It is common to disparage people working as dishwashers and as bathroom cleaners - but those people do something useful - what are all these unemployed paper pushers going to do? Be loggers?


Charlie Mas said...

I work in a business in which the practitioner are constantly making the mistake of overthinking their work. They devise new and more exotic metrics to measure the results, but spend less and less time thinking about how to achieve those results.

This report from the state Achievement Gap Oversight and Accountability Committee is all about measuring the gap but offers almost no help in closing it.

They are a bunch of useless idiots.

Anonymous said...

Charlie, did you even READ the report?

I'm looking at it right now and I'm wondering if it's the same one.

One of the first recommendations is to help families navigate the school system-HOW OFTEN do you people say that should be a priority for low-income and immigrant families?

Next suggestion is "hire family advocates" aren't people here ALWAYS saying that those advocates are desperately needed at all the schools where there are low-income/immigrant families??

Another says familiy involvement is important to achievement, indeed, it's called "integral". Isn't that ANOTHER thing I see on this blog-that PARENTS of these kids need to step up?

More suggestions: mentors, requiring communications in native languages, follow-up with drops to see why...ALL of those have been on this very blog as important to underachieving communities.

And the part about high expectation of African American students, just as ALL students should have high expectations of them? YES, that's CRUCIAL. There's a real problem with some white teachers not having high expectations of ANY kids of color-so I think it's important this is so noted.

I'm not seeing the uselessness here, Charlie. And I think it's very telling that you're calling these people "useless idiots", since these recommendations came from the very populations they aim to help.

No wonder people of color often react negatively when white folks come armed with "help".

As for the summer break problem, please don't all of you go away thinking poor kids sit at home staring at the TV or out the window. There are many, many programs open to them, some free or nearly so, that offer enrichment, academics and more. Kids attend them by the hundreds. So we need to look at more than just lack of summer options as the reason that they are behind.

I think teacher expectations are a part of it, lack of family participation, both forced due to their having multiple jobs, and some who arenn't plugged in, is a part, as is kids coming into K without the background kids who have had a chance to start their educations earlier. It's nothing a short paper like tihs can solve, but I also don't think it should be dismissed as "useless".

Not that I'm especially surprised...

constructive said...

Wow, agibean, that's a classic. Deny that there is any problem, then jump right into several wild accusations of racism. Very constructive.

Teachermom said...

Well, I agree with much of what Charlie said in his original post, but I wouldn't call the report "crap". If it were just a crappy report, that would not be a big deal. The real problem with the report is that it is redundant - have these things been said before? Maybe the data/percentages are somewhat different (because the measurements keep changing), but the recommendations are the same as they have always been (or at least, since I started teaching in 1995).

So, who is accountable for 100% graduation rates for African American students by 2018?

Where is the funding for the Birth to five programs?

Who has come up with the right way to steer more African American students towards careers in education, and how do we replicate it?

Who is making sure that teacher preparation programs are relevant and high-quality?

Who is going to pay teachers to put in extra hours meeting with more parents face-to-face, since printed material doesn't seem to cut it? Who is going to provide the interpreters for these meetings when needed, and make sure that you don't have to schedule a month in advance to have an interpreter present?

More effective would be to pick one strategy, fund it, and see if it leads to actual improvements. If a report just has an overwhelming amount of expensive, vague recommendations, why present it to a state with an anemic budget?

RTI could certainly be one strategy to fund, or Birth to Five programs, or summer programs....pick one thing, implement it fully, and stop pretending to "hold people accountable" for unfunded and poorly executed projects.

Charlie Mas said...

Yes, I did read the report. There was very little that was actionable in it.

There are recommendations about family engagement in there, such as this one:

"Recognize families' rich and varied backgrounds and life experiences."

Who's not doing that? And, what people who aren't doing that will suddenly want to do it or know how to do it after reading that recommendation?

It is a meaningless suggestion. As is "Provide families with needed information to navigate the U.S. school system." That simply isn't a helpful suggestion. Do you really think that it is information that families need? Is that really what it is going to take to close the gap?

Charlie Mas said...

I just want to add that all of the concern over culturally relevent curriculum strikes me as overblown.

Let's remember the effort and the results from the African-American Academy. There was a school with African-American principals and teachers, with an afro-centric curriculum, with the most friendly and welcoming regard for the students' families, with families that all specifically chose that school for their children, with all of the cultural competency that could ever be brought together for African-American students, yet it did not close the gap at all.

After that extended failed experiment, it is hard to conclude that minority role models among the staff, culturally relevent curriculum, or even culturally competent staff are integral to closing the academic achievement/opportunity gap.

So pardon me if I discount the value of those recommendations and focus instead on the recommendations around instruction.

When you read this report and look for actionable recommendations around instruction you will find them scarce.

Maureen said...

Re. Cultural Competency: I've always wondered if there is evidence that having an African American teacher has an impact on the black-white gap. It seems like it would be easy enough to measure. I doubt that kids are randomly assigned to classes with black teachers though-that would have an impact on results. (In my experience, middle class black parents ask to have their kids assigned to black teachers, so there is a potential for the other classes to have a disproportionate percentage of lower income black students depending on what the principal does.)