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Thread: Closing the achievement gap ... but exactly which gap?

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    Default Closing the achievement gap ... but exactly which gap?

    There's an interesting and mostly civil exchange on the Wayland Town Crier discussion board about the school "achievement gap" and what it means.

    The article frames the gap in racial terms: whites and Asians on one side, blacks and Hispanics on the other. I started the accompanying commentary by noting that the efforts of the Wayland Public Schools really focus more broadly on struggling students in general. That is, the underlying causes of the achievement gap are socioeconomic and cognitive, not racial.

    For a reason that's not clear to me, Town Crier poster "TheRealTruth" seems fixated on the racial angle, suggesting that closing the gap isn't something we should spend our effort (and funding) on.

    I'm interested to know what others think.

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    Since Town Crier articles and comments can be hard to find, and may in fact disappear over time, I thought I'd excerpt key pieces of the debate here.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach
    I think that it is important to point out that the gap is between averages, that individual students within any particular group may have outcomes that fall along a broad spectrum, and that solutions to the particular achievement gap referenced in the article above are generally applicable regardless of race or ethnicity. At some level, a struggling student is a struggling student.

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    Continuing ...

    Quote Originally Posted by TheRealTruth
    Wayland cannot afford to be spending its time and money on the achievement gap.
    It is a national issue that far richer towns than ours might be able to take on.
    Our priorities are completely screwed up. We'll close an elementary school to assure the passage of an override, deny existing high schoolers sufficient space because we want to save our money for a new building when the one we have is only 50 years old, and take on the nation-wide achievement gap issue among the 12,000 or so taxpayers in a town that already pays too much in taxes.

    .

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    Continuing ...

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach
    Going beyond reading, Response to Intervention (RtI) lays out a model for helping struggling students.

    1. Have high quality teachers deliver instruction from an effective core program.
    2. Deliver screening assessment to all students.
    3. Implement proven supplemental instruction for those students at risk, often in small group settings.
    4. Deliver progress monitoring assessment to the struggling students.
    5. Implement proven intensive intervention--including additional time on task--for those students who continue to struggle.

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    Continuing ...

    Quote Originally Posted by TheRealTruth
    It is because of the School Committee's failed policies that we had so many struggling students this past year. You crammed in more students than either school could handle effectively, creatlng case after case of bullying, overwhelmed teachers, distracted students who were underserved in classes where a large percentage of special needs children took too much of the teacher's time so that the rest of the class had to suffer.
    If the school committee weren't so damned focused on overrides and a new high school, maybe it could serve the struggling students we already have!

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    Continuing ...

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach
    TheRealTruth, the existence of struggling students far predated the elementary school reconfiguration, and spans far beyond Wayland's boundaries. The resulting building enrollments from that reconfiguration are within the range of what we've seen in the recent past.

    A School Committee focus on overrides and a new high school are fully appropriate for serving struggling students and the student population in its entirety. Moreover, that focus is primarily one of the Committee and the Administrators, and hardly detracts from instructional efforts in the classroom.

    TheRealTruth, are you changing your tune on the importance of serving struggling students? Within the last 24 hours, you said that this was an unimportant issue.

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    Quote Originally Posted by TheRealTruth
    To [focus on the achievement gap], is to sacrafice [sic] other things that would mean more to more students.

    How is it that the achievement gap, which you say occurs nationally, is not a national issue?
    Is this just a lesson in semantics?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach
    Focusing on one group of students is of course a 'sacrifice' of resources that might be spent on another group. But that doesn't mean its an inappropriate sacrifice--Education, like just about everything in life, is about finding the right balance. In my opinion, we don't spend disproportionally on struggling students. Response to Intervention (RtI) is focused on all students and on intervening where necessary for struggling students in order to head off more expensive SPED designations.

    Education in the United States is primarily a local function. Federal and state funds pale in comparison to what's raised locally, and states have a dramatically larger impact on schools than does the federal government. Solutions to educational problems are more likely to be bottom-up than top-down. All districts need to apply best practices at the local level to serve their specific student population. Wayland is just as likely as any district, and probably more likely than most, to figure out what works best. And we do so not to close the achievement gap nationally, but to serve our students locally. That's much more than just semantics.

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    Continuing ...

    Quote Originally Posted by TheRealTruth
    Correct me if I'm wrong - the achievement gap refers to students who are black, or does it also include Hispanic?
    What percentage of Wayland's students does this population represent?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach
    There are many ways to define 'achievement gap.' One common way is the one referenced by the article: white and Asian on one side of the gap, black and Hispanic on the other. As I pointed out in my initial comment above, however, singling out race/ethnicity doesn't really make sense, as the causes behind and the approaches to attempting to narrow the gap are race blind.

    Reading failure, for instance, tends to come in one of three 'varieties' (a simplification, to be sure, but a useful one). One, some children fail to grasp (generally, because they weren't explicitly taught) that sounds and symbols have a correspondence (in the word 'cat,' the /c/ sound corresponds to the letter 'c'). Two, some children (typically from low socio-economic backgrounds) have a weak oral vocabulary because they haven't heard as many words growing up as their more affluent peers. Three, some children struggle with comprehension, sometimes for reasons of cognitive deficit. None of these have race as the root cause, even if some of them (especially the second) may correlate with race.

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    Quote Originally Posted by TheRealTruth
    Unless I read the article wrong, the achievement gap IS about race - '... the so-called achievement gap, the disparity in academic and behavioral standards achieved by white and Asian students on the one hand, and students of color mainly blacks and Latinos on the other.'
    To say that everone else will benefit from studying this is to cloud the issue.
    To suggest that someone who dares question it is 'racially motivated' is ignorant.

    If the issue is about race, as the article suggested, there is no crime in talking about it in clear unambiguous language, and it doesn't help to broaden the definition to include all struggling students. If we're talking about all struggling students, then it should be framed as such and the term 'achievement gap', at least as defined above, should not be part of the discussion.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach
    TheRealTruth, I didn't have any control over how the ARTICLE was written. My first COMMENT was taking exception with that writing.

    TheRealTruth, my saying that others will benefit does not CLOUD the issue, it CORRECTS the issue. Achievement gap does NOT have a fixed definition, and the cause of achievement gaps is NOT race.

    TheRealTruth, are you saying that being black or Hispanic CAUSES an achievement gap?

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    Continuing ...

    Quote Originally Posted by TheRealTruth
    Of course not!
    What a ridiculous question.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach
    TheRealTruth, given your multiple points above trying to limit the achievement gap to students of color, that's by no means a ridiculous questions.

    Now for question number 2: do you think that there are instructional approaches that work ONLY for students of color?

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    Quote Originally Posted by TheRealTruth
    I just googled 'achievement gap' and encourage others to do the same.
    Virtually every result that came up defines the achievement gap as having to do with race. A few of them have broadened the term a bit to include other definitions, as you have. However, fthere is not one of these sites that does not include race in the deinition, like this one from Boston.com:

    'Despite unprecedented efforts to improve minority achievement in the past decade, the gap between black and white students remains frustratingly wide, according to an Education Department report released Tuesday.'

    So my question is, why this effort to redefine it?
    It is what it is, and contrary to TFW's attempts to make a racist out of anyone who attempts to talk about it, there is nothing wrong with talking about what it is.
    If you want to talk about addressing the needs of 'all struggling students', that's fine, but it's different. It's a different topic.

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