Eradicating the Achievement Gap: History, Education, and Reformation

Article excerpt

Many educational researchers have attempted to succinctly illustrate the term achievement gap. Danielle Lavin-Loucks, senior fellow of the J. McDonald Williams Institute, in her 2006 research brief titled The Academic Achievement Gap, simply summarized the term as follows:

   The term "achievement gap" denotes
   a somewhat kinder way of discussing
   pervasive racial and socioeconomic
   disparities in student achievement
   and what Kozol (1991) terms savage
   inequalities in America's schools. (1)

Though Lavin-Loucks seemed to effortlessly capture the essence of this term in few words, do not be fooled into thinking that anything else associated with the academic achievement gap is as simple. As an example, Lavin-Loucks goes on to write that

   ... the sheer presence of an achievement
   gap based on race, ethnicity, and
   socioeconomic status implies an
   unequal educational system. But the
   long-term implications are far more
   consequential than only an unfair
   system of education. Rather, the effects
   have profound consequences for life
   outcomes ranging from employment to
   welfare dependency to health. (2)

In other words, the achievement gap is a complex phenomenon that warrants a great deal of attention. Similarly, any goal associated with addressing the achievement gap could be deemed monumental.

One goal that many educators have that is related to the achievement gap is to build a proverbial bridge between the educational outcomes of students of color and their white counterparts. To accomplish this, there have been efforts aimed at increasing funding and implementing programs that address and seek to prevent student failure. However, "bridging the achievement gap is more complicated than simply increasing funding or developing intervention programs," (3) and many educators feel that seeking to bridge the gap falls short. Instead, those educators contend that the goal should be to eradicate the academic achievement gap completely, which "not only means equalizing access to educational opportunity, but also ensuring positive life outcomes for traditionally disadvantaged groups." (4) Yes, eradicating the achievement gap can be thought of as a lofty goal; however, many believe that through a combined effort, it is attainable. This combined effort calls for all stakeholders to rally together, including but not limited to parents, students, teachers, administrators, neighborhood residents, public officials, and legislators. Stakeholders are charged with developing individualized reform efforts that will address the academic achievement gaps that may exist in their schools. The following paragraphs provide suggestions for these reform efforts.

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1. Examine the history of public school education.

The task of successfully eradicating the achievement gap calls for stakeholders to examine the history of public school education in the United States and to use obvious historical evidence as an impetus to champion school reform. For instance, the Massachusetts Act of 1647 established public schooling as The Town School, with the goal of teaching the three Rs--Reading, [W]Riting, and Religion, along with Arithmetic, which came later. (5) Chronologically and historically, African Americans were not the intended demographic for these first public American schools: the targeted demographic was the white male. With that in mind, it seems incredible that after almost four hundred years of American education, there has been little successful remediation and few lasting processes for reforming the educational system to accommodate the particular needs of students who are culturally diverse. Additionally, because of the residual effects of historical events such as slavery, Black Codes, Jim Crow, racism, discrimination, social inequalities, political and economic disenfranchisement, and many other disparate events, African Americans have continued to face institutionalized racist views of black intellectualism in educational systems. …