Limited Progress on Eliminating the Achievement Gap: A New Strategy is Needed

New statistics from the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) indicate that efforts to reduce the persisting achievement gap between African American and white students continue to fall short. USDOE’s most recent NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) data indicate that while the achievement gap between African American and white elementary school students has decreased somewhat since the early 1990’s, even those small gains are lost by the time students are tested in middle school. Analysis of eighth grade test scores show that little to no progress at all has been made toward eliminating that gap.

So what does this mean?

Well, first we must face the reality that what we are presently doing is not working for the vast majority of African American students. There is no evidence whatsoever to support the notion that African Americans as a race are less intellectually capable than whites. Given the absence of such evidence, we can only conclude that African American students’ lower levels of achievement must be attributed to something(s) that is or is not happening with their learning. When I speak of children’s learning, however, I am referring to much more than their schooling. Children spend on average a mere 40 hours per week in the school building. The majority of their time is spent in their homes and in their communities with parents, other family members, friends, and community members.

Children’s homes and communities are two extremely important but often undervalued and discounted learning environments. The majority of educational research has centered on school-based strategies and interventions to improve students’ educational outcomes. But in considering the work of James Coleman (1966) and his contention that factors outside of the school building such as students’ family background and socioeconomic status are significant determinants of their achievement levels, we must begin to place at least as much emphasis in educational research on home-based and community-based strategies for improving student learning.

I contend that to date, we have placed a great deal of emphasis on what takes place in the classroom, but have failed in meaningful ways to consider the learning environments where students spend the great majority of their time; home and community. In our ongoing efforts to eliminate the achievement gap, we can no longer afford to rely only on schools. Neither can we continue to place all of the blame at the feet of schools when students do not achieve. Schools, parents, and communities must all take responsibility for ensuring student learning. I believe that school-community partnerships can play a meaningful and significant role in the education of African American children. In the coming discussions, I will develop this idea more fully and solicit your input.

As always, I would love to hear from you!