G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
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Education Secretary Arne Duncan, speaking at Ed Trust’s recent national conference in Washington, D.C., praised the organization for taking the lead in developing the “cut the gap in half” approach, calling it “very ambitious” but “also achievable.”
I spoke with Amy Wilkins, Ed Trust’s vice president for government affairs, who said she’s keenly aware that “when you put race and education in the same sentence and it gets volatile pretty quick — but the fact is unless we set higher goals for kids of color, and demand quicker progress, we’re never going to close that gap. And that means we have to name it, we can’t pretend that all kids start and the same point and that everything is OK.”
The Ed Trust-endorsed blueprint calls for schools to set expectations that students of color show greater — and faster — progress than what’s expected of their white classmates. While the final goal remains eliminating the gap entirely, Ed Trust argues that it makes more sense to set a realistic course for schools to chart over the next six years.
“Students of color start further behind, and even if they make more progress they’re still going to be behind at the end of six years,” Wilkins said. “But by 2018, the gap could be half of what it is today. If school and states are doing what they need to do, they’ll be educating these kids better than they ever have before.”
The gap was supposed to have been closed by 2014. That’s what No Child Left Behind wanted. Now the can has been kicked to 2018 or 2023, and we should expect it to be kicked again. I’m just basing this off of my understanding of diminishing marginal returns…to anything. NCLB placed heavy emphasis on closing the gap, and we’d expect that most of the gap closures would occur in the first few years of heavy focus and then diminish over time. One data set out of Florida indicates this trend. It’ll be interesting to see how short of expectations these states fall or how states manipulate statistics in order to comply (see: El Paso, Atlanta, Baltimore, Washington D.C., Philadelphia).
But Amy Wilkins is correct: you have to name the gap before you can address the gap. Richmond continues:
I put the question of states adjusting expectations based on a student’s ethnicity to Carla O’Connor, an associate professor in the School of Education at the University of Michigan. O’Connor, who specializes in African-American student achievement and urban education, said the new sliding bar for expectations is a huge step backward.
“No Child Left Behind presumed that all students would be able to learn and perform at similar levels – the current efforts suggest that not all kids have that ability, and we shouldn’t even try,” O’Connor said. “Once we shift to different standards, we’re institutionalizing the notion that’s not even feasible.”
O’Connor said there’s another problem to consider. The standards as they currently exist were already “pitching relatively low,” O’Connor said. “The tests we’re using aren’t capturing higher-ordered thinking. These are basic-level skills and now we’re saying we don’t think certain populations of students can even meet those expectations.”
Besides the fact that black and Hispanic students aren’t meeting these expectations, it’s important to point out that this isn’t a discussion of standards, per se. Every single student is held to the same standard. In Florida, a score of 3 on the FCAT 2.0 indicates grade-level proficiency. Every student is held to this exact same standard. But the expected distribution of different groups of students is different. Black and Hispanic students have the same standard, and they’re failing, in larger numbers, to meet it.