kitchen table math, the sequel: The achievement gap: how our schools are working hard to make it go away

Monday, February 20, 2012

The achievement gap: how our schools are working hard to make it go away

If you're concerned about achievement gaps of the sort recently reported on by the Times, you could either (re)instate rigorous, structured, direct instruction in line with the latest findings in cognitive science research, teaching each child in his or her Zone of Proximal Development, i.e., at his or her instructional level, with proper scaffolding, and furnishing each classroom with teachers who've mastered both their content areas and these best practices. Or you could:

I. Eliminate the ability of academically advanced students to get ahead in the classroom by:
1. implementing low level, one-size-fits-all instruction (for which there's no better model than Investigations math)
2. eliminating grade acceleration and individualized instruction
3. eliminating gifted programming or making it about time-consuming projects that supplement existing assignments rather about academic challenges that replace these assignments.

II. Reduce the ability of students to get ahead on their own time by:
1. assigning tons of homework of the low-ratio-of-learning-to-effort variety 
2. including massive summer projects and one-size-fits all reading lists.

III. Reduce the ability of grades to reflect achievement differences via"grade compression" and inflexible "rubrics" that:
1. employ subjective grading standards (elevating "creativity" and "engagement" over correct answers, clarity, articulateness, and solid analysis) 
2. take points off for unexplained answers, however correct 
3. give partial credit for "explained" incorrect answers 
4. keep the purely academic demands/expectations of assessments and assignments as low as possible 
4. minimize the opportunity for students to demonstrate work that exceeds those demands/expectations 
5. even if students find a way to demonstrably exceed expectations or go above and beyond academically, don't give them any extra points for it 
6. deploy "wild card" variables that partially randomize who gets what grade (e.g., trick questions; unclear directions; trivial requirements like including today's date on the title page of your report or using the word "I" in your science project abstract; rather than collecting homework, leaving it up to the students to turn it in and giving out zeroes for things not turned in on time) 
7. assign heterogeneous-ability group projects and give everyone in the group the same grade

IV. Reduce the ability of NCLB tests to reflect achievement differences, via:
1. low academic ceilings 
2. partial credit for explained incorrect answers; points off for unexplained correct answers (as above) 
3. wild card variables (as above)

V. Lobby colleges to pay less attention to high-ceiling standardized tests like the SATs and the Achievement Tests, and more attention to grades and "leadership" activities.

But then the next question becomes how to eliminate the growing achievement gap between U.S. students and those from other developed countries.

(Cross-posted at Out In Left Field)


SteveH said...

"Meredith Phillips, an associate professor of public policy and sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles, used survey data to show that affluent children spend 1,300 more hours than low-income children before age 6 in places other than their homes, their day care centers, or schools (anywhere from museums to shopping malls). By the time high-income children start school, they have spent about 400 hours more than poor children in literacy activities, she found."

"Shopping malls" is a literacy activity? I would love to see the questions on her survey.

OK, Meredith, you're going in the right direction, but use your critical thinking skills and take the next step. Quantify exactly what goes on at home for the best students. It's not just going to malls and museums. I don't just turn off the TV and model a love of education. I get pissed off that the school sends home notes asking me to work on math facts with my son while they do "active learning" in very mixed-ability groups at school.

"Charles Murray, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute whose book, “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010,” was published Jan. 31, ... "


"The problem is a puzzle, he said. “No one has the slightest idea what will work. The cupboard is bare.” "

My hand is raised. When you collect statistics, you better design it so that you can separate the variables. If you use NCLB state tests to define the gap, then look at the actual questions and raw percent correct scores. Start with something very simple, like the times table, and test kids in both urban and suburban schools. Then send a questionnaire home to find out what they did at home specifically to ensure mastery of the times table.

Can you imagine getting a survey where you had to put down the number of hours you spent at the mall with your child. Yes, we went to the Museum of Science in Boston and our son really loved the lightning machine and the guy in the cage. That's why he knows the times table and does well on the state tests.

I'm at a loss to see why anyone would think that the gap is a complicated idea.

SteveH said...

Also, affluent parents can pay to send their kids to schools that set higher standards. There is a chance for kids to get more or to accelerate. In our state, however, the educational hierarchy fights tooth and nail to prevent charter schools like Achievement First from offering the same chance to urban kids. Willing and able urban kids are not allowed to get away and perhaps reduce the gap. Even though charter schools use a lottery, opponents don't like the separation caused by the initiative required to sign up for a charter school. Public schools don't want to lose their more willing students even though they offer them nothing.

They are holding kids hostage as a way to try to find some vague approach to eliminating poverty, but they also use poverty as an excuse for kids not knowing the times table. Apparently, the kids just need more time at the mall.

Anonymous said...

They're not interested in eliminating poverty. They want to bring those at the top down so that those on the very bottom won't feel as bad.

How do they convince parents with higher SES to settle for lower academic results? Simple! Just offer more technology and they'll feel like they are giving their kids a premium education.


Crimson Wife said...

Where are these supposedly better affluent public schools that offer high standards and acceleration? They don't seem to exist in my neck of the woods. A friend of mine who used to homeschool her kids was persuaded by her husband to try purchasing a home in a very chi-chi town with a reputation for "good schools". This was back in November and by the beginning of February she was complaining about how the elementary school was refusing to challenge her highly gifted daughter. They spent $$$$ to buy in this town for the schools and she's probably going to wind up pulling her daughter out to homeschool again.

Jen said...

Those schools are challenging *in comparison* to the totally dumbed down, one size fits all and group work will take care of the rest "reformed" schools in urban areas.

It's a relative scale.

Ummm, I'm not a robot but I also don't have an arabic? hindi? keyboard. My first word is not in our alphabet! Now that's a challenge!

Glen said...

Wise words as usual, Katharine.

Harrison Bergeron said...

Wait, so you're saying that No Child Left Behind is the same thing as No Child Gets Ahead? Preposterous.