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Why the Achievement Gap Refuses to Close


While more people are talking about the achievement gap among students of different ethnic backgrounds, progress on providing all students with a quality education remains slow, according to the authors of the book Unfinished Business. Included: Strategies for helping all students succeed.

For years, the achievement gap between different ethnic groups was the footnote to student performance many schools like to keep hidden. But with the No Child Left Behind Act's emphasis on analyzing how different subgroups of students perform, is the gap closing?

No, but awareness of the problem is more widespread, according to Drs. Pedro A. Noguera and Jean Yonemura Wing, authors of Unfinished Business: Closing the Racial Achievement Gap in Our Schools. Dr. Noguera and his assistants spent four years studying race and achievement at Berkeley High School in Berkeley, California, a large school with an ethnically diverse student population. What the research team found in reviewing everything from the school's organizational structure to after-school activities is that attitudes, organizations, and polices often "sort" students onto different paths that can result in them finding success in school and beyond -- or getting a sub-par education.

Dr. Pedro Antonio Noguera

Among the ways to shrink the gap are equalizing funding among schools and encouraging parents and teachers to work together to ensure that all students are routed toward opportunities and resources to increase their chances for success, the authors said.

Dr. Noguera talked with Education World about his research findings and ways communities can help all students get quality educations.

Education World: How much progress has been made in closing the racial achievement gap over the past ten years?

Dr. Pedro Antonio Noguera: Not much progress has been made in closing the gap, although there are some notable exceptions. A small but significant number of schools that serve poor children of color have shown that all children can achieve at high levels if provided with quality instruction. These exceptions are very important because they serve as the strongest proof there is that the problem is not the kids.

EW: Based on your research and observations, what are key factors are at the root of the achievement gap?

Dr. Noguera: Inequitable allocation of funds to schools [is one of the big factors.] We spend the least on the poorest kids and the most on the most affluent kids.

"We continue to have many schools in the U.S. that are racially segregated, and disproportionately poor children of color are consigned to the worst schools."

This has an impact on teacher salaries, quality, and the condition of school facilities. Additionally, poor kids have other basic needs, such as health care, housing, and nutrition, which have not been met. These needs also have an impact upon learning.

EW: What grass-roots-type of efforts, such as those at the school and classroom level, do you think are most effective in helping minority students succeed?

Dr. Noguera: Parents and teachers must organize together to demand adequate funding for schools and teacher salaries. We must hold state governments accountable for providing real support to schools and do more than merely demand accountability.

EW: How effective has the No Child Left Behind Act been in narrowing the achievement gap?

Dr. Noguera: NCLB has succeeded in drawing attention to the gap because of its testing requirements and its focus on disaggregating test scores by race. However, it has actually exacerbated the gap through high stakes testing because it has done nothing to ensure that conditions within schools have improved. Many states have seen drop-out rates increase in part because schools realize that one way to raise test scores is to get rid of kids who bring scores down.

EW: What have been the biggest obstacles to closing the racial achievement gap in schools?

Dr. Noguera: The biggest obstacle is a lack of commitment to quality education for all children. We continue to have many schools in the U.S. that are racially segregated, and disproportionately poor children of color are consigned to the worst schools. Until these inequities can be addressed it is highly unlikely that we will see the achievement gap begin to close.

This e-interview with Dr. Pedro Antonio Noguera is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.


Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World