Why Schools Alone Cannot Close Achievement Gap

Achievement gap refers to a phenomenon where one group of students (divided according to race, ethnicity or gender) outperforms another group and the difference in performance scores is statistically significant. The National Center for Education Statistics compiles data and explores the achievement gaps between Black and White, and Hispanic and White students to try and determine the changes over time, patterns of achievement, and the reasons for these gaps. Such results prove to be helpful in improving the education system in areas it is lacking in.

What can schools do to help close the achievement gap?

Schools play a vital role in helping close this gap. Since teachers and administrators are the people directly in touch with the students, they have the tendency to influence them and bring about positive changes. For instance, common reforms on part of the school administration include reducing class size, creating smaller schools and expanding early childhood programs, improving the quality of instruction provided to minority students and encouraging more minority students to take advanced level courses.

Let’s take a look at some ways schools can help boost achievement results:

  • Create a Challenging Curriculum: The idea is to create a curriculum that is just the right amount of challenging. If it is too easy, it won’t help much in terms of actual learning. Similarly if it is too difficult, it would cause a great deal of frustration and lack of understanding on the whole. Schools need to determine the mental capacity of their students and plan a curriculum that challenges them in the right manner.
  • Provide the Option of Extra Classes: Struggling students often need additional time and attention to get the same concepts as the rest of the class. By offering extra classes for those who are lagging behind, schools can ensure that all the students are on the same page.
  • Motivate and engage: A teacher who simply “stands and delivers” a lecture might not have a great learning impact on his students as compared to a teacher who motivates and engages his class. Teachers need to understand exactly what motivates and drives their students to perform their best and that is precisely where they need to focus their attention on.
  • Monitor progress and make consistent improvements: Instruction methods need continuous revision and improvement. By keeping track of student achievement levels and analyzing the results, schools can pinpoint the areas where the students are lacking and make arrangements to fix them.

While these measures do have an overall positive effect on closing the achievement gap, such “fragmented” interventions cannot have a long lasting impact, even though they may boost student achievement in the short term. The solution to this problem is a much larger issue that needs to be dealt with at various levels.

How can parents help?

Putting your kids in a school is not where your duties should stop as a parent. The learning for children starts at home, and they pick up more things here than they do from anywhere else. Making a small effort might help create a great positive impact. For instance, reading to your children for at least 20 minutes every day, speaking to them and discussing even small routine tasks like selecting food items in the food market will help stimulate their brains. Similarly, establishing routines at home will help inculcate better discipline and learning abilities among your children. And using an overall positive reinforcement disciplining method such as praising kids when they have done a good job, instead of focusing on only saying “no” when they do something wrong. A positive attitude makes for a great learning atmosphere. A close cooperation between school and home can become one of the key pillars of closing the achievement gap. The amount of time that family members are able to devote to support and reinforce learning will certainly go a long way in developing the student’s attitude towards education and subsequently contribute to lessening the achievement gap. Parent involvement, without doubt, has a strong impact on the achievement outcomes for students.  

The Socioeconomic Factors

In addition to home and school, there are several socioeconomic factors that play an important part in helping students achieve. These are matters that the school cannot control entirely. Economic opportunities for the students’ families, access to healthcare and social services, community safety, access to facilities such as libraries and museums etc and access to quality child-care and after-school programs are all determinants of the achievement gap in a particular group of people. These factors in return have an impact on the number of students that graduate on time, the percentiles they are able to graduate with and so on. According to a 2011 study by Education Week, 82.7% of Asian students and 78.4% of white students in the class of 2008 were able to graduate on time. But in case of Hispanic students, only 57.6%, in case of black students, only 57% and in case of American Indian students, only 53.9% were able to graduate on time.

In addition to these factors, the students’ background is also a matter of importance when determining the reasons for achievement gap. The family income level, diet and nutrition conditions at home, students’ mother tongue (if different from English) and the ease of mobility of the students are all factors related to the student, but dependent on the socioeconomic conditions of the country.

Impact of State

While individual school management can try and make sure that each student gets the kind of attention he/she needs, it is ultimately the job of the state to come up with policies in this regard. State budget deficits, unfunded federal mandates and inequities in funding among school districts are some of the major reasons why there is a widespread achievement gap across schools in the US. Under the Obama Administration, the US Department of Education stepped up attention on closing the racial gaps in college enrollment and graduation rates. More measures need to be taken to ensure that people in every group have access to basic education of a good quality.

What can be done to close the achievement gap?

Health and Development: Research shows that there is an evident impact of health on the outcomes of student achievement levels in school. The developmental phase of a child’s life – early childhood and adolescence – need a properly planned out process which involves taking care of cognitive, emotional, psychological, behavioral, biological and physical health concerns. Early experiences are what shape brain development. Positive experiences in this part of a child’s life will enable him to perform better in school.

Family and Home Environment: This is where the change needs to begin from. A closer look at various data sets reveals that different forms of abuse, including physical, sexual and emotional, can have a highly negative impact on the achievement capability of a child. These are concerns that need to be addressed by parents and need to be taken care of to ensure that the child goes stress-free to school and has the actual capacity to learn.

State-Sponsored/Private Programs: Various governmental and non-governmental organizations work towards helping students that are disadvantaged, due to poverty, family problems or even learning disabilities. These organizations are key players in identifying the real issues that hamper learning and play an important role in trying to correct them.

It is the joint responsibility of teachers, students and the state to try and close the achievement gap that has widened quite a great deal over time. The improvement needs to start from home, continue on to the educational institutes and reach the state level. Only then can the achievement gap be narrowed down if not completely closed.


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