This morning, NPR’s Talk of the Nation hosted a discussion entitled Schools Find Achievement Gap Tough to Close. Guests on the program were James Earl Davis, of Temple University, and Pedro Noguera of New York University. If you have a few minutes, I would encourage you to listen to the segment, or read the transcript. While both gentlemen made exceptional points, I felt that some of Professor Noguera’s comments were encouraging for public educators, and worth highlighting.
With regard to educational policy problems and the impact of No Child Left Behind:
In many schools, in the name of high-test scores, we’ve actually adopted policies that have made schools less supportive of children, that have made them less willing to support children with greater needs, because those kids sometimes bring down test scores.
We have had discussions, ad nauseam, about the impact of high stakes testing on our schools, but I believe Noguera’s comments illustrate one of the true dangers of standardized testing. We can not allow bad policy to force schools into making decisions in the interest of test results–at the expense of the best interest of students.
Addressing the students affected by poor educational policy decisions:
I think in many ways black males are just kind of the canary in the mine, the biggest casualty of a failed policy but not the only victims of a failed policy.
We have to account for ALL students as we consider the adoption of educational reforms. While at-risk students need (and deserve) special consideration, we must remember that poor policy, poor pedagogy and poor teaching impact all students.
On maintaining high expectations for all students, but especially those at-risk:
There is an issue here about the choices young people make, and when you go to the schools where you see success, you see schools that have developed a strategy to get young people engaged early, to make learning compelling, and to counter some of the distractions that are out there, and particularly the more harmful influences. But you also see strong teacher-student relationships, and you see teachers who have great confidence in their students, who convey that confidence to their students, and students respond accordingly.
I like the fact that Noguera does not excuse students from responsibility–they need to make good choices. However, he also emphasizes that schools must take steps to engage kids in meaningful learning and positive activities. In addition, we need teachers who are willing to invest in building meaningful relationships with at-risk students, setting high expectations and building self-esteem.
Addressing the cause of the lack of progress in closing the achievement gap:
I want to avoid focusing in on just one issue. I think we always have to keep in mind there’s a complex array of factors that are influencing this outcome, because too often in education policy we say, well, let’s just fix the teacher, or let’s just fix the curriculum. And then we end up missing out on the parents, we miss out on the peer groups, and we miss out on the other important pieces.
Exactly right. There is not a “silver bullet” that will close the achievement gap or fix our educational system. Our efforts at reform must be individualized, and they must address a variety of issues that contribute to student success.
Response to why more interventions are not put in place to close the achievement gap:
We don’t learn from success in education. We have lots of models of success. In many schools, there will be one brilliant teacher right next door to another mediocre teacher. And what we’re not good at is enabling the teacher who is not as good to learn from the one who is more successful. And we don’t do that across schools either.
Our educational system does need to learn from any, and all, success stories–apply what works, where it is appropriate. We need to be honest and come to terms with the idea that there will not be one fix for our entire educational system. Just as we would expect our teachers to account for the diversity within the classroom, any attempt at school reform must recognize the differences that occur among communities, districts, and individual schools– allowing for a customized response to school reform.