A "Sensible Fix" for the Achievement Gap

It is no secret that our nation's achievement gap is significant.  The odds that a white or upper class student succeeds in public schools is significantly higher than the odds of an African-American, Latino, or low-income student receiving the same benefits.  And as frightening as the size of the gaps may be, the persistence of such gaps are even more damaging.

Over at The Washington Post, Jay Mathews points us in the direction of a "startlingly sensible achievement gap fix."  Mathews writes about the specific efforts undertaken by Arlington (VA) Public Schools starting pre-NCLB (1998) and running through the end of the true NCLB era (2009).

As Mathews notes:

From 1998 to 2009, the portion of black students passing Virginia Standards of Learning tests in Arlington rose from 37 to 77 percent.  For Hispanic students, the jump was from 47 to 84 percent.  The gap between non-Hispanic white and black passing rates dropped from 45 percentage points to 19.  Between Hispanic and non-Hispanic whites, the gap shrank from 35 points to 12.

Now those are the sorts of numbers we are all looking for when we talk about closing the gaps and providing great public schools for all students.   The full work of the Arlington team is available in a new book, "Gaining on the Gap: Changing Hearts, Minds, and Practice."  But Mathews offers a clear view on what Arlington, and its then superintendent, did:

He insisted on measuring each major ethnic group, plus low-income students, students with disabilities and students learning English, on: the percentage passing first-year algebra with a C or better by the end of eighth grade; the percentage passing advanced courses in grades six through 12; the percentage completing the third year of a foreign language by the end of grade 11; the percentage of sixth- through eighth-graders taking electives in art, music and theater, the percentage meeting or exceeding criterion levels on the Virginia Wellness-Related Fitness Tests, and several other measures.

And this is in addition to the requirements under NCLB/AYP and the Virginia SOLs.

For all those that say student data and achievement numbers are not a fair measure of a school and its success, Arlington County, Virginia is providing them wrong.  By effectively collecting and utilizing data, Arlington was able to confront the problem of the achievement gap and target real solutions for fixing it.  And the results speak for themselves.

Mathews' piece is definitely worth the read, as is the book by the Arlington leadership team.  We cannot keep ignoring the achievement gap, nor can we discount its significance.  Arlington and other places demonstrate there are real solutions out there, even sensible ones.


 

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