Boutin: We are Trying to Close the Achievement Gap All Wrong

marchonthegap

Reposted from the Washington Post:

There may be ways in school to make up for some of the deficits of skills and knowledge our culture believes to be important to competition in the marketplace. What I finally realized, in my ninth year, is that I do not support  current attempts  to “narrow the achievement gap” in school alone. Why? What we mostly mean when we talk about narrowing the achievement gap is finding ways to get students of color to score as well on standardized tests as white students do. As Hart and Risley’s work suggests, skills and knowledge essential to performing well on standardized tests (like vocabulary) are not easily gained, particularly when a student’s social-emotional issues (and perhaps hunger or lack of safety) stop them from focusing in school.

Does public education have a history of doing disservice to poor children of color in our country? Absolutely! Is it because they haven’t closed the achievement gap? Ironically, I would say schools continue to disservice students because they’re so hellbent on closing the achievement gap of standardized test scores. Schools leaders who focus on closing the achievement gap often do things such as reduce or eliminate art, music, social studies, recess; and, instead, spend lots of time analyzing student performance on math, reading, and writing tests in an effort to improve those skills. These skills are certainly vital, but this kind of schooling comes with grave costs.

It’s time education policymakers seriously acknowledge that we live in a tremendously unequal and unjust society that creates the problems we see in schools before students ever even arrive there. Students need to feel safe, to feel loved, to eat, to sleep, and to have friends before they can engage in learning. When students don’t feel safe or loved or are hungry, they don’t learn very well, if at all. The students who often don’t have their social-emotional needs met in and out of school are the same students who are on the bottom end of the achievement gap; force feeding them a simple diet of only math and language down their throat becomes becomes  inhumane.

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