Ask An Expert: Closing the Achievement Gap

Question: Dr. Lynch, what are your thoughts on the achievement gap? What do we need to do to close it? Lisa K.

Answer: Thanks for your question Lisa. I have researched the achievement gap for over 9 years and this is what I have learned. Our political leaders have finally begun to recognize the importance of education to the survival of individuals and societies in the 21st century. The other aspect of this conversation is all too familiar: while our children do learn, not all of them are learning as much or as well as they should to meet the demands of the new century.

In the United States, there are low levels of achievement among students from low-income backgrounds and students of color. This is in contrast to the fact that students in educationally supportive states and those from advantaged backgrounds easily rival students from across the world. To put this into context, nine year-olds from White, advantaged backgrounds read as well as thirteen-year-old Black and Hispanic students. In addition, even though funding has increased, it has done so unequally and the achievement gap has grown.

Typically, schools that serve a large number of “minority” students face big issues, which put them at a disadvantage when compared to other schools. They have to deal with lower budgets, larger classes, and often less qualified teachers and school leaders. The effect of this has been to create an “educational debt” that negatively affects the students in these communities. Major efforts are needed to address this issue. Recruiting great teachers is important, but it is not the whole answer. Systemic elements are needed to support the work of talented educators. It is not the people who are at fault: it is the system that needs an overhaul.

As Ted Sizer once put it, “The people are better than the system.” We have come a long way in understanding how to create more effective school leaders and build a national commitment to educational leadership. However, we are not there yet. We need leadership to forge all of the various elements of school reform today into well-functioning systems that make sense for those working hard to achieve results for students. If this is accomplished, we will begin to close the achievement gap.


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