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The Education Achievement Gap: Minnesota's Embarrassment
The Achievement Gap: Idea Generator
September, 2004

The Education Achievement Gap

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Create a positive learning environment in the classroom
After teaching in the Minneapolis School District for seven years I am convinced that only radical policy changes will eliminate what is euphemistically called the "achievement gap".

1) Hold class size to a maximum of 20 students. Eliminate most Educational Assistants and non-teaching personnel and increase the number of classroom teachers. Unless this is done, nothing significant can be accomplished.

2) Move chronically defiant, disruptive students from regular classrooms to classrooms where these students can work on basic skills of following instructions, cooperation and self-control. Virtually every class each day of my seven years of teaching in Mpls was significantly disrupted and the 90% of well-behaved students lost anywhere from 25% to 50% of on-task learning time.

3) Fundamentally revise curriculum to focus on African-American history, society and culture from slavery to Rap. Emphasize African-American achievement in the professions and the arts and de-emphasize sports.

Created on 10/13/04 by Peter Blewett of Apple Valley, MN

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Migrant program for high-mobility students
The high-achieving Dayton's Bluff Elem. School is faced with a 50% mobility rate (half the students in each classroom move in or out during the school year). Some students just move around a lot. These chronic movers should be given the appropriate schooling as migrants whose attendance is periodic or unstable.

Migrant education includes a portfolio that moves with the student to indicate the student's curriculum level, instructional characteristics, current and past projects and skills mastered, contact persons for further information, etc). Continuous progress is possible even in the face of disruptive life events.

St. Paul has a high mobility rate, and when chronic, places the students at maximum risk for failure and eventually dropping out. This special migrant approach/program that has been successful with at-risk students just might help a huge proportion of St. Paul pupils.

Created on 10/13/04 by Lyelle Palmer, Ph.D. of Winona, MN

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Increase the length of school year and day
Research indicates that review of subjects in the fall is time consuming and necessary because children forget what they have learned when away from school for more than six weeks.

By increasing the number of days in school and spreading those days through out the year, children will be able to learn more and better with less time reviewing what they have learned.

My plan would have students attending school for 45 days, followed by a week of vacation. If the school year began in September, the school year would extend through July with the full month of August for vacation. To balance out the year, more days, or weeks of vacation could be included.

Part-time school, with focus upon motivation, field-trips, and specific deficit skills required for the next term would also be included during the weeks of vacation for children in poverty.

Increase the length of day available in school. Provide after school activities and supervised study time.

Created on 10/12/04 by Janice Charpentier of River Falls, WI

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Nuture the artist in students from other cultures.
I am involved with an arts organization which has an educational component that features the contributions of African Americans to the arts.

After 14 years, this program has grown to reach out across the state and beyond. One of the many lessons we have learned is that the whole range of arts is very integral to African American culture.

While we are a choral organization, our education program includes dance, theater, spoken word, music, visual art and - for this year, in tribute to Gordon Parks - photography too. This came about because of the nature of the African American culture. It would not remain focused on just music. That would not be authentic.

I tolerated school because of the wonderful arts programs - choir, orchestra, theatre, band. I got high grades in the academics but the arts kept me from being bored. It gave me social relationships, problem solving skills, self esteem, and so much more. Enriching our arts (and sports) access will motivate student learning.

Created on 10/12/04 by Faith Rynders of Mounds View, MN

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Engagement gap
One of the primary limitations with debates over the “achievement gap” is that the categories we use to frame the “gap” are not capturing the essence of the problem. The notion of an “achievement gap” is based on a disparity in “achievement” test scores for African American/Latino/Native American students and White students.

The problem with the "achievement gap" framing is that it puts the onus or blame for the gap on the students, not the institutional structures and practices that create the gap. Rather than defining the gap as an “achievement gap” that puts the onus on students, the gap could be defined as a “skills gap.” (Steele, 2004).

However, simply teaching “skills” for the primary reason of improving test scores serves to dump down the curriculum and to disengage many students from school. My own preference is to define the gap as an “engagement gap” suggesting the need for activities that actively involve students in ways that give them agency and literacy practices.

Created on 10/12/04 by Richard Beach of Minneapolis, MN

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Parental & community involvement
As others have noted, parents and the community need to be involved in the schools that their children attend. To that end, I would propose a community center model that transforms the factory school model to incorporate services such as career counseling, community organizations, social services, library (print and media) services, governmental services, park and recreational services, medical dental and nutritional outreach as well as educational offerings for students and adults that occur simultaneously throughout the day. The school should be accessible for most of the day (6 a.m. to 10 p.m.)

The school should have a board that can hire a leadership team, manage the finances and make broad policy decisions. The board would be elected by the community the center serves. So governed, the center can get the appropriate people, equipment and program for its' needs.

One of the largest issues for schools is our separation from our communities. "Our schools" is an oxymoron.

Created on 10/12/04 by Brian Vedder of Saint Paul, MN

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Cognitive skills for students...
The need for problem-solving and social skills improvement can be attested to by the rates of incarceration in the state as well as the achievement gap.

Yes, there are many other factors as well -- food, clothing, a safe home environment -- but if students do not have the tools to effectively communicate with their peers or teachers, learning becomes difficult. They already have incorporated cognitive behavioral therapy in British Columbia, Canada Schools. How progressive is Minnesota?

Created on 10/11/04 by Mat Olson of Duluth, MN

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Encourage free thinking
We are the hardest working country in the world and in the classroom it shows. I don't remember ever not having homework from the time I was in second grade to the time I graduated from high school.

The one thing I remember specifically is that the work was usually doled out in order to keep the student busy and lacked substance. For instance, much of the work I was required to turn in was merely regurgitated answers that I found in the text. This is not to say that none of the exercises done was unhelpful--some were.

Most of the schoolwork did not require me to think for myself. All answers could be found somewhere in a text or from lecture notes. This is a huge problem--we are not free thinkers in this country--I never even heard the term 'critical thinking' until I was in college.

This problem is a question of quantity versus quality. This is a value that we must change if we wish to improve the educational system in this country.

Created on 10/11/04 by Greg Wesson of St Paul, MN

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Maintain lower class sizes
I could do a better job, if someone would just give me fewer students to work with. It doesn't matter who they are, what issues they come with, what skills they have and how many schools they have attended in the past, if I had more individual time to know them, work with them and could truly have a handle on who is understanding and who is not--everyday--I could meet their needs.

I know the behavior management part of my job would be at a minimum, if the students could get the attention they need from me in a positive way and I could spend more time instructing them, enjoying them and encouraging them.

I would be willing to give up computers, aides, EVEN all but the basic materials to JUST HAVE fewer students to be responsible for.

There is nothing in my mind more important than giving teachers a classroom of 20 students maximum ACROSS ALL GRADE LEVELS. Students need individual attention throughout their educational careers.

Created on 10/11/04 by MJ Walker of Woodbury, MN

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Join hands and make a cup
I have four children and come from generations of educators. I am a graduate student at the U of M and this is one simple step to get us all closer to "closing the gap". Ask every individual P-18 what they need in order to be a better learner. From Pre-school to Graduate School, there is an achievement gap in one way or another.

In the following order ask them from their eyes and experiences how we can make their school better, how we can make their teachers better, how we can make their classmates better and finally how we can make them better. This would be asked of every learner in our educational systems every year until they graduate from high school, college or graduate school.

My father taught me, "They don't care how much you know until they know how much you care". Asking them these questions in a formal or informal way every year does that. So instead of using both my hands to carry the water, I will ask a child to help me and together we will accomplish our task.

Created on 10/08/04 by Tex Ostvig of Long Lake, MN

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