Alike Chandler – Equity and the Achievement Gap: Still a crisis in America’s public schools
BY: Alike Zesiro Chandler, M.Ed., MACLP Educator & Clinical Therapist
Closing the achievement gap in American public schools has been an arduous task for education stakeholders for decades. By definition, the “achievement gap” is an observable and persistent disparity of educational measures between groups of students who are defined by their socioeconomic status, race and gender. Essentially, the achievement gap occurs when one group out performs another group, which in most cases is the comparison between minority and or low-income students to White students. It’s comprised of standardized test scores, grades, course selection, dropout rates and college completion rates. Some may ask, why this gap exists? Early policies, legislations and the systematic racial injustices of oppressed people of color, are the basis of cause in the crisis to date. Institutions that service people of color within low socio-economic communities have yet to receive comparable funding when compared to their affluent White counterparts. As a result, they are relegated to a second-class education. Thus, the achievement gap and un-equitable educational systems continue to exist in America.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 mandated the “Coleman Report” written by James Coleman, a sociologist at John University in Baltimore, in order to evaluate the inequities in Elementary and Secondary education across the U.S. The report revealed how the average White student scored above the average African American student. 50 years later, the data has only shown minimal change. Eric Hanushek, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research postulates; if the achievement gap continues to close at this rate, it will be an estimated two and half centuries before the African American and White math gap closes and over one and a half centuries until the reading gap closes. He goes on to say that despite the high expectations of the Coleman report outcomes, the objective of having racial equity amongst U.S. schools was unsuccessful.
Today, the educational system in America attempts to make strides through new policies and legislation to address the disparity. Begrudgingly, racial and social class dictate most outcomes as minority students remain underperforming when compared to their White counterparts across the globe. The Comprehensive School Reform Demonstration Program, an initiative to improve schools within the U.S., was introduced in 2000 in order to assist public schools in providing both equal and equitable education for all students. This program was designed to aide public schools in raising student achievement by way of funding to support professional development, curriculum redesign and parent involvement. Lynwood Unified School District is an exemplary public school system that has created an Equity Department, which aims to increase student achievement and shrink the achievement gap by targeting specific subgroups that have traditionally been underserved. The department was implemented in 2016 in order to provide services and resources for students with the enduring goal of having equity. These resources include but are not limited to; cultural proficiency training for teachers, character development, ethnic studies courses, mentoring and implementation of culturally relevant curriculum district wide. Research data suggests that the greatest impact on student outcomes is delineated in the funding, curriculum, teachers and discipline policy. Of the four areas of impact, funding contributes most in the overall success of public schools. Most recently the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) which is apart of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), has been implemented in public schools statewide. The plan focuses on eight identified priority areas within a school district’s plan, which are identified by the state as priority. These areas include; access to credentialed teachers and safe facilities, implementation of common core standards, parent involvement, improve academic outcomes, support student engagement, school climate and connectedness, ensure all students have access to college and career prep and appropriate measures of student outcomes related to areas such as physical education and the arts. Each district has a plan that outlines how the budget will support their targeted goals. This program also allows districts to distribute its budget based on its unique needs.
In order to continue making progress, institutions must evaluate areas of need and growth that are significant to the needs of the district. According to Ruth Johnson, author of Data Strategies to Uncover and Eliminate Hidden Inequities -The Wallpaper Effect, academic institutions must take a “self examination” in order to address the disparities. The data extrapolated from the self-examination will delineate specific targeted areas of concern. Gender, race/ethnicity and culture must be considered in the overall institution analysis. This can be a challenging task for some school site leadership teams as some may perhaps have a difficult time with the harsh reality of what the data will reveal, while others may not know where to begin when looking into remediation and solutions. Even so, it gives public schools an opportunity to evaluate the already existing programs, curriculum, resources, culturally relevant teaching or lack there of, that will increase academic achievement within specific populations. All of which, overtime with a consistent and concerted effort of all stakeholders, will impact the achievement gap and lead to a system of equity. But in the meantime and despite best efforts America’s public schools remain in crisis.