Achievement gap

Stuart Rhoden, Ph.D. is originally from Chicago, IL. He has been in education for over 15 years. He worked in Washington D.C. and Chicago on education policy and advocacy. He also was a high school teacher in Chicago and Los Angeles for a number of years. For the past five years, he has been a lecturer teaching on issues of culture and diversity, education policy, education philosophy and youth cultures in colleges both in Philadelphia and Phoenix. He currently lives in Phoenix, where he is a full-time Instructor at Arizona State University Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

In the past three or four years, there has been a grassroots movement across the country created by some progressive educational groups surrounding students “Opting out” of mandatory high-stakes state test.  My opinion of this is that it is a copout. Until we change the system at broader systemic levels, we are not adequately preparing our students to succeed if we tell them they can opt-out of assessments along the way. This goes well beyond the “work harder/smarter” or “bootstraps” mentality that is often cited as code for structural inequality, but rather my perspective stems from an insistence that students can shine in an inequitable system as it is currently constructed. What is equally important is that as the adults; including educators, policy makers and researchers, need to consider more appropriate ways to analyze positive academic achievement, as well as strive towards creating more accurate measures of student achievement. The student’s role, while important, should not focus on being change agents of systemic inequality (that should be left to the adults), but rather beacons of light who consistently overcome systemic inequality. Read more

Dr. Cobb is the Administrative Coordinator for Los Angeles Unified School District’s Office of Academic English Mastery/Standard English Learner Programs. Its mission is two-fold: to eliminate educational disparities for African American, Mexican American, Native American, and Hawaiian American students; and to train teachers, administrators, and support staff in cultural responsiveness to ensure equitable access to quality education for historically under-served students.  For twenty years Dr. Cobb has been an independent training consultant, providing training in culturally relevant and responsive education; change management; leadership development; strategic planning; and coalition building.

Who are Standard English Language Learners?

Standard English Learners (SELs) are students for whom Standard English is not native, whose home languages differ in structure and form from the language of school [i.e. standard American or academic English]. These students are generally classified as “English Only” African American, Hawaiian American, Mexican American, and Native American because their home language incorporates English vocabulary while embodying phonology, grammar, and sentence structure rules transitioned from indigenous/native languages other than English including African languages, Native American languages, Hawaiian languages and Latin American Spanish.

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Keffrelyn Borwn-PhotoKeffrelyn Brown is an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin, in the department of curriculum & instruction with a primary appointment in the cultural studies in education area. Her scholarly interests focus on understanding how pre-service and in-service teachers acquire, understand and use sociocultural knowledge to address the teaching of underserved student populations. She is also interested in the educational experiences of and knowledge produced and circulated about African American (students). Her work has been published in Educational Researcher, as well as in several education handbooks and encyclopedias. Keffrelyn is an affiliate faculty member with the John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies and the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies.

In my university sociocultural foundations course I ask students—many of whom plan on becoming K-12 teachers—to list words they have heard used to talk about Black students. Every semester I consistently hear terms like: loud, lazy, gangster, troublemaker and at-risk and each time I am floored by the words shared.  Neither these terms nor their connoted meanings correspond with words or perspectives used to describe students viewed as having the potential to learn. I am also saddened by the taken-for-granted way students approach this task.  This is evident in the rapid, yet apathetic, nonchalant manner in which students come up with and offer these words.  They do not question the negative nature of the terms, nor the consistency of the terms offered.  It is not until we discuss the activity that students think about the implications this way of talking about Black K-12 students might have on their education.

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Lewis picCynthia Lewis is Professor of Critical Literacy and English Education at the University of Minnesota. Her current research focuses on the relationship between digital media practices, social identities, and learning in urban schools. Cynthia’s books include Literary Practices as Social Acts: Power, Status, and Cultural Norms in the Classroom and Reframing Sociocultural Research: Identity, Agency, and Power (with Patricia Enciso and Elizabeth Moje).  Both books were awarded the Edward Fry book Award from the National Reading Conference. She is past Co-Chair of the Research Assembly of the National Council of Teachers of English and has served on the executive board of the National Conference on Research on Language and Literacy.

Given persistent disparities in educational achievement and high school retention, there is an urgent need to understand processes that promote high school success in adolescents at risk for academic failure. An essential 21st Century skill set for all of our nation’s students includes the information and communication technology skills to allow for participation as creative and informed citizens as well as critical thinkers well versed in core subject area knowledge. In light of a pervasive digital divide, it is essential that schools provide the access, resources, knowledge, and skills that will allow all students to succeed academically in high school and beyond. Students from low-income households, who lack access to computers and the Internet in the home, need to acquire digital media practices in school. Read more

Rueda picRobert Rueda is a professor in the area of Psychology in Education at the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California. His research has centered on the sociocultural basis of motivation, learning, and instruction, with a focus on reading and literacy in English learners, and students in at-risk conditions, and he teaches courses in learning and motivation.  He recently served as a panel member on the National Academy of Science Report on the Overrepresentation of Minority Students in Special Education, and also served as a member of the National Literacy Panel (SRI International and Center for Applied Linguistics) looking at issues in early reading with English language learners.

When I was growing up, I ended up bedridden for a period of time. After endless days of watching cartoons, I was bored. Thankfully, a friend’s mother brought over a box of books which had been sitting in the attic which she had just cleaned out. I picked it up, and for the first time, was interested in reading without being required to. While I had the skill and knowledge to read, I had no reason or interest to do so.

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new mica photoMica Pollock is an Associate Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Building on her experience investigating claims of discrimination in schools at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, Dr. Pollock studies how youth and adults struggle daily to discuss and address issues of racial difference, discrimination, and fairness in school and community settings.

A fundamental debate erupts whenever U.S. educators discuss “achievement gaps.” Do educators’ everyday actions really contribute that much to racial disparities? Or are such disparities caused by parents, by peers, by “society,” by “poverty,” by children themselves?

We need to get much better at discussing this issue in education. As I have shown in my research, simplistic debate over who is “to blame” for “achievement gaps” often keeps us from adequately serving children of color in particular. For example, when people argue that disparities are caused solely by particular players (e.g., “parents”), they miss out on potential collaborations that would support student success. When people relentlessly blame actors other than themselves for student outcomes, they fail to figure out which of their own actions might assist children better.

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Dr. Donna Y. FordDonna Y. Ford, Ph.D., is Professor of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University. She teaches in the Department of Special Education. Professor Ford conducts research primarily in gifted education and multicultural/urban education. Specifically, her work focuses on: (1) recruiting and retaining culturally diverse students in gifted education; (2) multicultural and urban education; (3) minority student achievement and underachievement; and (4) family involvement. She consults with school districts and educational organizations in the areas of gifted education and multicultural/urban education. Dr. Ford is the author of Reversing Underachievement Among Gifted Black Students (1996) and co-author of Multicultural Gifted Education (1999), In search of the dream: Designing schools and classrooms that work for high potential students from diverse cultural backgrounds (2004), and Teaching culturally diverse gifted students. Dr. Ford, is co-founder of the Scholar Identity Institute for Black Males with Dr. Gilman Whiting. Donna is a returning board member of the National Association for Gifted Children, and has served on numerous editorial boards, such as Gifted Child Quarterly, Exceptional Children, Journal of Negro Education, and Roeper Review.

According to virtually every report and study focusing on the achievement gap between Black and White students, Black students are under-performing in school settings compared to their White counterparts. Of the more than 16,000 school districts in the U.S., few (if any) can report that no achievement gap exists, that the achievement gap is marginal, or that the gap has been narrowed or closed. Nationally, there is the average of a four-year gap in which Black students at the age of 17 perform at the level of a 13-year old White student. Of course, and sadly so, this gap is greater than four years in some states and school districts. Also sad and pathetic is the reality that, while the gap is evident when students start school, it is roughly a one-year gap in the early years; however, during the educational process, the gap increases or widens! The achievement gap exists because of home and school variables, with schools playing a significant role.

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Dr. Julio CammarotaDr. Julio Cammarota is an assistant professor in the Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology and the Mexican-American Studies and Research Center at the University of Arizona, who also co–directs the Social Justice Education Project (SJEP), a youth participatory action research program.

Throughout the 1990’s, I documented the education, work and family experiences of Latino youth in California (see my book, Suenos Americanos). My intention was to understand how young Latinos might achieve some success (i.e. educational achievement or decent employment) in a hostile political and economic environment. The most surprising finding of my research was that Latina females fared much better than Latino males, sometimes within the same family.

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