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Ask Dr. Lynch: Closing the Achievement Gap

EducationWorld Q&A columnist Dr. Matthew Lynch is an associate professor of education at Langston University. Dr. Lynch provides expert advice on everything from classroom management to differentiated instruction. Read all of his columns here, and be sure to submit your own question.

Dr. Matthew Lynch

This week, reader Lisa K. asks:

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

ANSWER:

Thanks for your question, Lisa. I have researched the achievement gap for over nine 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. In contrast, 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 13-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.

About Dr. Lynch

Dr. Matthew Lynch is a Chair and Associate Professor of Education at Langston University and a blogger for the Huffington Post. Dr. Lynch also is the author of the newly released book It’s Time for a Change: School Reform for the Next Decade and A Guide to Effective School Leadership Theories. Please visit his Web site for more information.

If you have a question for “Ask Dr. Lynch,” submit it here. Topics can be anything education-related, from classroom management to differentiated instruction.


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