Throughout the last few decades, the “achievement gap” – meaning the difference in academic performance between different student groups defined by race, gender, native language, learning disability, etc. – has come to the forefront of the national education discussion. The Bush administration’s No Children Left Behind Act (NCLB), the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and the Obama administration’s emphasis on gender and racial gaps in college enrollment and success rates have intensified the nation’s attention on equity in education, in the form of national testing, state and federal curriculum changes, and the inclusion of culturally responsive education training (CRE/CRT) in teacher certification curriculums. The focus on equity in education highlights the explicit and inherent biases that we all have as educators, and challenges us to use this awareness to further the promise of education as the great equalizer.
Where and when does the achievement gap start?
Many experts contend that the achievement gap actually starts with the “opportunity gap” dictated by the socio-economic factors into which a child is born. The resources that are at a poor child’s disposal – including quality of public schools, access to pre-school, availability of educational materials in the home, and even childhood nutrition – splay open the achievement gap at birth. Other experts trace the roots of the achievement gap to the “word gap”, or the fact that children who are born into low income families hear 30 million fewer words by age 3 than those born into more affluent families. The fact that children who grew up in poverty and were reading below grade level by 3rd grade are three times less likely to graduate from college (full study here) indicates that the achievement gap indeed exists, that it begins early, and that some factors are largely out of both students’ and teachers’ control.
But as educators, what can we control?
Poverty is not the only gap-widener. There’s race: the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) study showed black and Hispanic students more than 20 points behind their white counterparts on math and reading assessments in 4th and 8th grade, which translates to two grade levels. There’s gender: the most recent U.S. census indicated that 36% of women in their late 20s had a bachelor’s degree or better versus only 28% of men. We clearly can’t control the race and gender of our students, but we can control how we treat, teach, nurture, and counsel our students to ensure an equitable learning experience for all.
How do we really know if we’re being equitable?
None of us would like to believe that we are biased or that those biases would affect the way we treat someone – for better or for worse. If I learned that I called on girls three times more often than calling on boys, or that I assigned a “great participation” behavior four times more often to white students than I did to black students, but that my colleague’s statistics were vastly different, would that make me stop and think, and perhaps change my practices? If I learned that despite national trends to the contrary, my minority students were performing just as well as my non-minority students, should I (deservedly) feel proud and confident in my techniques?
Schoolrunner empowers educators to uncover these biases. Our sophisticated data analysis tool provides teachers and administrators with objective data around academics, behavior, and discipline and allows educators to slice and dice it any way they choose. When you review real data you are able to remove the more emotional components and, as a team, focus on what is truly happening in your classroom and at your school. In Schoolrunner, Teachers and administrators can routinely compare grades, participation, send-outs, suspensions, consequences, attendance – and so much more – across student groups according to race, gender, neighborhood, religion, and native language.
“With Schoolrunner, I can pull a report in a class and see, how well are the girls doing compared to the boys? How well are black students doing compared to white students? And I can ask tough questions to teachers. I’m not afraid to have that conversation, because we can all see it.” – Maurice Thomas, Founder & Executive Director, Milwaukee Excellence Charter School
Numbers don’t lie. Confronting potential biases within yourself (as a teacher) or with your teachers (as an administrator) becomes a more credible, honest, and productive process when you have the data to back it up. And facing these biases is the first step in making your school and classroom a driver of equality; only then can we truly make strides in closing the achievement gap.