The Will to Overcome the Achievement Gap – Do We Have It?

I just returned from the PLC at Work Summit with a new perspective on student achievement.  Dr. Anthony Muhammad spoke eloquently about the effect of school culture on student achievement.  A school with a healthy culture has a student-centered learning environment with teachers using student-centered learning activities to provide learning for ALL students.  Administrators and staff who say they support this belief need to be mindful that they are creating and implementing policies and procedures that nurture ALL of our children.

Since the publication of the book Classroom Instruction That Works (Marzano, Pickering, Pollock, 2001) educators and administrators have known what to do to close the achievement gap.  There are 9 essential instructional strategies that are research-based and have been found to improve student achievement if implemented correctly and consistently across all content areas and across all grade levels. Dr. Muhammed says, “We know what to do; the problem is convincing educators to embrace and use these strategies.”

  1. Identifying similarities and differences
  2. Summarizing and note taking
  3. Reinforcing effort and providing recognition
  4. Homework and practice
  5. Nonlinguistic representations
  6. Cooperative learning
  7. Setting objectives and providing feedback
  8. Generating and testing hypotheses
  9. Cues, questions, and advance organizers

Therefore, knowing and using the strategies is essential and certainly the first step in providing a healthy school culture.  But what we really need is to shift our thinking about who are “ALL” of our students.  We need to step back and look at our instructional practices to make sure we GUARANTEE all of our students succeed in school and graduate ready for college or career instead of just inviting our students to succeed.  There is a subtle, yet profound difference between the two paradigms.  Either we make a commitment to guarantee learning for all of our students or we continue to make school an inviting place to succeed for just those students that we can relate to easily – those whose cultures and beliefs are the same as ours.  Whether we’re talking about the racial gap, cultural diversity, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, or poverty, administrators and educators need to meet the needs of all students who fall into these categories.

Be reflective and ask yourself the following questions posed by Dr. Muhammad:

  • Do you respect all of your students and their cultures?
  • Does your school validate the cultures of all of your students, or do you seek to make all students assimilate to the dominant culture?
  • Do your practices build on student strengths or focus on their weaknesses?

Be courageous and start this conversation at your school.  We’ve let 12 years go by since we’ve known what to do – now we need the will to make the changes necessary so that schools can be a place that provides high levels of learning for all students regardless of student background.  We must articulate through our beliefs, and even more important, through our behavior that:

  • All children can learn.
  • All children will learn because of what we do.

What are your thoughts?

Keim_Joanne_SMALLJoanne Keim
OCM BOCES Network Team Coordinator
jkeim@ocmboces.org

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