Combating achievement gaps: a guide to parents and all those interested bridging the Gap

Factors driving success or lack thereof in life
February 19, 2017

Why do we consistently have achievement gaps in our school system? The variation of the achievement gaps between the mainstream and minority students is real and it does not occur in vacuum. We know why there has been variations in achievement gap, and we know what could be done to change it. It’s about changing mindset, it is about rectifying uneven provision of resources, and it is about providing the appropriate foundational preparation and eradication of social promotion, it’s about leveling the playing field, and yes, it’s about breaking the existing artificial walls that divide people and foster the cultivation of conscious and unconscious bias driven behaviors. If we could openly confront some of these issues, there is no doubt that we could overcome the challenge posed by achievement gaps. Unfortunately, although research provides professionals the information that could guide them through this challenge, but those information are often discounted through political expedience while the cycle continues.

The problem is that instead of actually dealing with the issues, some continuously resort to non-issues, especially those whose children are not faced with the prospect of low achievement gap. Instead,  they resort to changing the subject to some trivial issues. They rather want a different discussion like school choice, blame games and other concocted trivial debates that they know would not get to the root of the issues associated ubiquitous achievement gaps in our system. Those who advocate for choice as a solution know so well that there is nothing like choice in the truest sense of it. In a free market system, where demand and supply, along with profit and affordability cumulatively drives everything, they should know better. Does anyone really believes that the poor and the rich will have equal chance for what some characterize as “choice?” Anyone that believes so would need to read up on the economic theories of demand and supply, and profit driven decision in a market driven system such as ours. In a market and profit driven society, choice does not really mean choice, otherwise, everyone would send his or her children to Harvard or Stanford. In a capitalist market driven environment, limited resources for the most part dictate the choice one makes; unless you have the resources in such a market driven system, there is nothing like choice. In addition to other factors such as human frailties, it’ difficult, especially for those with limited resources. It is a system where the fact that one likes private jet as a choice for transportation does not mean that he or she can get it; education choice is the same way, that you have choice does not mean you can go to any school you want. There are conditions that don’t allow everyone to realize the choice of private jet. The excuse that some people repeatedly give as the course of achievement gaps has eaten into the fabric of our society that it has become normalized while the real issues are rarely addressed.

Mounting of research evidence consistently point to the factors that foster academic success or failure. Those factors were pointed out in James Colman 1968 report. In 1983, President Reagan’s secretary of education, Terrel Bell, provided similar information, and went further to warn that if a foreign nation does what seemed to be destroying the life trajectories of urban and to some extent, poor white children in rural areas, we would consider it as an act of war. Clearly, the factors that drive academic success or lack thereof had been established and it has not changed much. Fast forward in the litany of reports that persist even as I write this peice, I mean in 2017, we are still reporting on disproportionate discipline and suspension of minority children in some schools http://tinyurl.com/qh4pks6

These are students who are behind from day one due to lack of foundational preparation in reading and other areas. These are students who are already behind from day one of school, and as if they are not behind enough, the system compounds the problem by suspending them as if the children learn anything during suspension. For parents with young children who are wondering what to do to ensure that their children acquire the competencies necessary to bridge the gap for today and in their future academic success. For people whose experience of education has been negative, especially in urban and rural areas devastated by poverty and cultural irresponsive practitioners, help is on the way. In this piece, regardless of your special situation, I know, the fear is real, the fear that your beloved one, your child or relatives, or people you know are simply not going to get what they need to be successful in school and by extension in life, especially when one factors the level of fierce competition that is sweeping our global village. If you are concerned, please pay close attention to the remaining part of this piece, I will provide you with a couple of simple steps you could take to mitigate the situation for your child today and in the future.

First, before school begins, make appointment to meet with your child’s school officials, it could be your child’s teacher, librarian, and other educational resource personnel, including the school principal and other people in the system that could sing the same song you want to sing to your beloved ones.

Second, hence you schedule the meeting, do your homework and present the school official or officials with specific actionable activities you would want to engage with them for the sake of the children. Please, don’t be afraid, ensure that the school representative is made aware that you know why it’s predictable for some students to succeed while others won’t. Make it clear that you are concerned and that your concern propelled you to meet them to figure how you could help them to help your child along with other’s children. A piece of advice as you meet the school officials, ensure that you endeavor to treat the school officials with respect, and never speak to any of them in condescending manner, and reassure them that you would be prepared to work with them and do what it takes.

Share your thoughts with them, let them know that you want to work with them to ensure that your beloved one’s foundation resource to foster meaningful learning and subsequent academic success are in place. Begin by telling them that you understand how difficult it is to teach and encourage students who are discouraged and frustrated in part because they don’t know what success is like. It is complicated and let them know that you are aware of all these things, including those students who do not have supportive parents or community that is there to support them. In addition, quickly reassure the school officials that your beloved one’s education success is a priority for you, as such, that you are prepared to work with each and every one of the school officials to help and support them in whatever way you can. Tell them that you met a scholar who shared with you what it takes to ensure success for all children, that the scholar emphasized asking the school officials-in what ways they would like you to help. Then proceed swiftly to suggest what you conceptualized as a clearly defined steps to foster meaningful learning, and the steps are enumerated as follows:

  1. First begin by giving tests to ascertain what the learners already know
  1. In the process, address any misconception you may have identified in course of the administering the tests
  2. Start from students’ current knowledge level and help them to relate their prior knowledge to new information in meaningful ways
  3. Armed with the information which is powerful, begin to provide compelling reasons for curriculum and pedagogical adaptation, planning scope and sequencing of learning materials while imbuing assessment mechanisms to support improvement in all areas of academic and social development of the learners.
  1. Develop a strategy that fosters two-way communication between the school and the home culture and continuously work with your child’s teacher or librarian to ensure that active and meaningful learning occur and that the activities you both embrace would help bridge the structured and unstructured gaps that could potentially impede learning,
  2. Perhaps if you follow through and work with the school where your beloved one goes, you will prevent him or her from becoming another victim of school’s systemic failure in the quality of education the system often provides to some of our most vulnerable children in our society. I close by urging parents to be persistent to ensure that success comes their way and for their beloved one. You know that research is the key for progress in all we do in life, especially in education. I therefore want you to always remember an American educational psychologist and a scholar who reminds us about the power and essence of research in whatever we do this way:

“As new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must change also and keep place with the time” (Dewey, 1939, p.157)

Do not be afraid to revisit John Dewey’s statement in 1939, it’s as good as it was in 1939 if not better in our today’s competitive global village.

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Dr. Joseph Nwoye
Dr. Joseph Nwoye has been a university administrator and faculty member for over twelve years. Within those years, he served as assistant professor and director of urban education for over five years. He also served as the director of the Multicultural Center and coordinator of the Urban Mentorship Program at Illinois State University. Dr. Nwoye earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Marketing, Masters in Business Administration, Master’s in Education, and Doctorate in Education. He has researched extensively policies and practices on issues associated with diversity and inclusion. His workshops in the areas of cultural intelligence and belief formation process are essential for any organization that truly wants to employ the synergy associated with diversity and inclusion in the workplace. In addition, Dr. Nwoye has provided consult to several organizations that are genuinely making efforts to diversify the work force while striving for meaningful inclusion. Joseph Nwoye is the founder of Diversity Frontier Inc., an organization that provides a state of the art program and road map for any organization to reach their diversity goals through engaging workshops. He has authored numerous journal articles, two books, and has presented at many national and international conferences. Dr. Nwoye’s research investigates what we know about human behavior in an effort to foster more equity for all people, especially those who encounter problems stemming from a cultural mismatch and misunderstandings.

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