Week 7: Should we focus on the gap in achievement? Or the gap in opportunity?
Rich Milner, PhD
In my book Start Where You Are, But Don’t Stay There I assert that we ought to redefine what we mean by “the gap”. Currently we define “the gap” as the disparities between White students and other groups of students on standardized tests. I suggest that we are focusing too much on the gap by this definition, keeping our time and resources focused on outcomes or end results rather than on why gaps in achievement exist. Because student learning opportunities are not equally allocated or available, should we expect achievement scores to be equal? Moreover, this definition and focus has at times led to negative consequences for the very people it is meant to help (see this article).
What if, instead, we defined “the gap” as differences in opportunity—differences in students’ access to processes in teaching and learning, as well as to structural and institutional resources available to teachers and students?
There are many highly diverse and urban schools where teachers are succeeding in spite of “the opportunity gap” while most everyone is working on the gap in achievement scores. School leaders and teachers can take on these practices, and reduce the opportunity gap, without waiting around for resources. Please read this short (2 page) commentary I wrote in Education Week, which was published just last week. There I fleshed out five specific strategies: (1) Reject colorblindness. (2) Work through and transform cultural conflicts. (3) Understand meritocracy. (4) Reject low expectations and deficit mind-sets. (5) Avoid context-neutral thinking and practices. One of the underlying themes in these strategies is that students are different, and so are their cultures. Acknowledging this is part of addressing the opportunity gap. Reaching equity in education doesn’t necessarily mean that all students must receive “the same”.
- Have you heard of the “achievement gap” before? What do you know about it, and our nation’s strategies to address it?
- What might happen to student achievement if our nation dropped the definition of “gap” that focuses on outcomes, and started focusing on a gap in opportunity? Or some other definition (you tell me what yours is or might be)…
- What do you make of the potential for closing the opportunity gap if teachers and schools use the five strategies?
- What are the differences between equity and equality? What does “equal opportunity” mean to you? How should our desire for equality and equity play out in practice?
- How might your answers influence our current definitions of "the gap" and strategies we should employ to address it?
i know a bit, but my older brother Joel Lehi Organista has deticated his life to closing the "gap", but not the achivement "gap".
My brother wrote a paper last year for his senior year titled "Closing the Academic Achievement Gap Between the Latino And White Students at West HIgh School", West high was here he went to and is the most diverse HS in all of Utah. quick demographics: 47% is white, 35% Latino, 9% Asian, 5% Black, 4% Pacific Islander. 51% Low income, 40% ELL (English Language Learners), the class of 2009 had 44% not graduate and 50% of the non-graduates were Latino.
He graduated West High in 2010 and he calucuated his own classes graduation rate. the graduation rate was 78% so around 136 of his peers, friends he grew up with were pushed out of school.
if you want to read his essay just email him at email@example.com to get a copy.
He recently also wrote an article titled "Empowering Youth To Pursue Emancipation" which he mentions the importance of not calling or view the "gap" as the achievement gap but more of the disconnect between the we treat young people and our countries democratic value.
this link takes you to his article http://www.educationrevolution.org/ it is in the Education revolution magazine Spring/Summer 2011 Issue.
The five elements for closing the opportunity "gap" are super important and i will learn more about the diferent strategies.
Equal Opportunity is when everybody has the same equal rights. They both can do the same thing, go to the same place and do what everybody does. Equal is something that everybody should have and the opportunity is that everybody should be able to do the same thing not just one person but everybody.
equity is fairness, meaning that there is an acknolwedgement of oppression and that some people start behind or with less and need support to be able to be equal. affirmative action is an example of equity to get equality/equal opportunity.
The nation is doing some stuff by the overall things being done in congress, and government is not closing but making the gap bigger. (example, No child left behind (since the signing of the No Child Left Behind, Pearson's Profits have grown from $293 million (2002) to $1.64 billion in 2009) and Race to the Top)
here is a great source/ interactive document for people to understand people are not dropping out but are being pushed out and opting out of school. http://www.scribd.com/doc/55366959/The-Teenagers-Guide-to-Opting-Out-Not-Dropping-Out-of-School.
Kumar ~ I see that your mom and my brother are kinda the same!! Trying to close the gap but not in the same place in different places.. Although they are both involve it makes it interesting that they are helping out and they care about it!!
I have heard of the achievement gap, and how especially here in Minneapolis it is a big problem. I know that the public schools in Minneapolis are not as good as the schools in the suburbs, and because much of the urban population is people of color, the education is not equal.
I think focusing on the gap in oppotunity would be beneficial, but ultimately we all our judged by our achievement, so we should also expect to see rising achievement scores as well, as that is the standard we are judged by.
I think the five strategies will produce good results, but I also think that students of color still will not do as well because of expectations of their culture. I have personally seen black students in my school be put down for participating and being motivated, for "acting white." As long as "acting white" is a bad thing, I don't think anything will change.
Equity is being fair and impartial, equality is being the same, having the same rights, opportunitites, etc.
Equal opportunity is having all the resources students are able to use, in all schools, regardless of where they are in the nation.
I think standardized tests are a fair way to measure achievement, because all students are taught the same curriculum, and tested in the same manner. I think it would be impossible to do standardized tests any other way, and while they don't always play to students strengths, they are necessary for reviewing schools' education. To address the gap, I really feel we need to not only distribute programs/teachers/money to schools, but to address some of the feelings that doing well in school is a betrayal. Working with the parents, working with the community. The achievement gap is a vicious circle fueled by low expectations from teachers, parents, the community, and the students themselves, and that needs to change.
"We ought to be empowering students to compete only with themselves." Marie, while I think this seems like a good notion, to empower students to do their best and nurture their interests and passion, the business world is often based on results, and letter grades and achievement tests are examples of that. Not only would the colleges have to change, but maybe our culture too, if that were to be successful. Right now, "achievement" is valued by businesses, and I think that is reflected in our schools. Whether it is a good thing or not, I guess is another discussion, and how you would go about changing that.
I know that the achievement gap is a big problem in Minnesota. In fact, my mom has been part of a group trying to close the achievement gap by eliminating segregation in schools. However, I had not heard of the opporitunity gap. My thinking is this: there is no way that everyone is going to end up with an equal education leaving high school. But everyone deserves an equal chance to make the most of their opporitunities. When some students are given the opporitunity to do certain things and others aren't, something is wrong in the system.
I think there is certainly a great potential to close the opporitunity gap if schools use the five strategies mentioned, but I think there is really no great way to tell until the strategies are actually put in place. However, the way you put it, it seems like the opporitunity gap is a much bigger issue than the achievement gap, and the five strategies seem like the best way to deal with it.
As I said, I think it is more important that students get an equal opporitunity to succeed than judge them on their test scores. I think it is the student's responsibility to do what he/she wants with the things he/she is given in school. Although it is great if schools are proactive in trying to get the students to reach their full potential, the full responsibility really comes down on the student's shoulders and what they want to do with the opporitunity they are given. This is not possible, though, without the existence of equal opporitunity in schools.
Before I begin, I’d like to thank Rich for addressing one of my biggest pet peeves: the word meritocracy. It’s absolutely ludicrous to let any given –ocracy’s ruling class decide what sort of –ocracy it is! I’m sure the aristocrats in an aristocracy think of their society as a meritocracy too. Our nation is only an occasional meritocracy—it is also, at times, a kleptocracy, a plutocracy, a pulchritocracy, and very rarely, a democracy. But enough poetry.
From my admittedly limited understanding, the achievement gap is a constant companion of our apparent collective need to “raise the bar” and hold a given entity “accountable”. We are familiar with all of these things because many, many people with pink faces and multiple chins have screamed at us about them from our televisions. “Achievement gap” refers to the fact that minority and low-income students often receive lower scores on various arbitrary tests which we administer to schoolchildren in order to determine how much funding each of these schools will receive and which of them should be turned over to Sylvan Learning Centers. It appears to have arisen from the vaguely Disney-ish notion that anyone, no matter what he has working against him, can transcend his circumstances if he just wills it hard enough.
That we do away with this sort of thinking is imperative. The sorts of students who receive low scores on standardized tests receive the most teaching to the test, as described here: http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/edweek/poor.htm Ironically, this can only lead to a true achievement gap later on in life, as students on the receiving end of this drivel will leave school having never once been empowered to nurture the creativity, self-sufficiency, curiosity, healthy skepticism, or collaborative processes inherent to all humans and necessary to function well in human society.
A first step to banishing this seemingly egalitarian—but in practice, blatantly unfair—attitude, might be to do what schools are always claiming to do anyhow: look to the universities. Many schools justify the continued existence of all kinds of harmful practices—letter grades, continuous math, a rigid insistence on a one-size-fits-all, quasi-liberal-arts curriculum—by throwing up their hands and saying that the colleges demand it. How about a positive collegiate trickledown effect for a change? A few antiquated practices aside—looking at you, legacy preferences—the vast majority of American colleges wouldn’t dream of considering applicants’ credentials independent of their contexts. If, for instance, School A offers 30 AP classes and sets no limit on how many a student may take at a time, and School B offers 5 and caps the allowable number at 2, it is not in the school’s best interest to hold that fact against the applicants from School B. SAT and ACT scores are also considered in light of race, income, and education levels of parents because everyone but the people in charge of primary and secondary schools has realized that those factors are inextricably linked. We ought to be empowering students to compete only with themselves. The colleges demand it.
This past July, I had attended the National Youth Leadership Training (NYLT) Camp hosted b y the National Youth Leadership Council (NYLC). Throughout the week at NYLT, campers looked at certain issues that affect youth today, and much emphasis was placed upon the achievement gap. As I continued on my journey with NYLC as a Youth Advisory Council (YAC) member, I have become more exposed with the achievement gap crisis. Dr. Milner, you had stated that most define the gap, “…as the disparities between White students and other groups of students on standardized tests.” However, the achievement gap I believe does not place emphasis on comparisons of any race in particular. It takes more factors into consideration beyond race and color. Although standardized testing does measure performance rates, there are many other determinants that show discrepancies amongst different schools. The achievement gap is the noticeable disproportion of students’ performance rates in school based upon a student’s race, gender, ethnicity, ability, socioeconomic status, geographic location, etc. From what I am aware of, two objectives of government programs that contribute to diminishing this crisis is the No Child Child Left Behind Act and Obama’s initiative, Race to the Top. One of the many contributing factors to determine funding for schools for Race to the Top, is based upon what means a school approaches to narrow the achievement gap in their school.
I believe if the nation began to focus on the “opportunity” aspect of the “achievement gap” this would hit the head on the nail because it’s as if we are killing the problem before it emerges. However, as we would like to say we could diminish all aspects of the achievement gap before it becomes a role in a student’s education, this would be wishful thinking. In your article you begin every explanation beyond the five points, “Successful teachers rethink/understand/focus …” The most effective way to narrow that gap between “achievement” and “opportunity” is education our nation’s youth on the repercussions it has on EVERY student in society. Although it is necessary for teachers to be the most aware of the situation as they are the head of the classroom, what students need is a support system from their classmates. Students are in need of a general understanding of what is surrounding them beginning at a young age. Each point is generally a foundation of what the achievement gap pertains to. The points effectively display a positive message of how to go about the gap in the classroom.
Equality indicates that everyone is on the same level, while equity refers to fairness. In the case of the “achievement gap,” equality is sought after, however, there are always disagreements upon equity. The concept of every child receiving an education is equality. But in the matter of equity, this objective is way off. A well-known concept is that student in inner-city schools may not perform as well as kids in more affluent districts.
While I have never heard of it reffered to as "the achievment gap" I am familiar with the issue of inequal oppourtunity in our educational system.
Personally I believe the "gap" as we have come to call it, is an effect of institutionalized form of racism that has been apart of American istory for years. However that is a disscussion of another topic. I only bring it up to focus on how difficult it will be to "close the gap."
On the subject of closing the gap, I find myself left with a bad taste in my mouth every time I see or even use the term close the gap because (and I don't mean to suggest anyone here is) it feels almost like accepting an idea that some races are more likely to achieve than others. I understand prt of this disscussion is to disscuss how to change the focus from being on the outcome of students to be the oppourtinities students have.
As for the 5 strategies, I believe there may be a lrge fighting chance to destroy the oppourtunity gap with them, but I am also always uneasy with relying or putting faith in abstract ideas. Also as I have mentioned before I believe tht the oppourtunity gap exist because of something that has been a part of this countries educational system for a long time and will be difficult to end with the strategies alone. I feel with the strategies there should be some more physical action to go along with it, of which I am unsure of at the moment.
Post your own reply below. Asking questions and respectful challenges are encouraged.