Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

A How-To Plan for Widening the Gap: Decisions about Instruction Can Minimize or Maximize the Learning Gaps between Groups of Students. Educators Can Choose Paths That Will Either Widen or Reduce the Gaps

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

A How-To Plan for Widening the Gap: Decisions about Instruction Can Minimize or Maximize the Learning Gaps between Groups of Students. Educators Can Choose Paths That Will Either Widen or Reduce the Gaps

Article excerpt

What if a malevolent superintendent of schools wanted to widen the achievement gap in his district? It's an outrageous idea, but let's pursue it nonetheless. He'd be well aware that entering kindergarten students don't start school equal due to differences in temperament, upbringing, and neighborhood influences. How could he build on those initial differences and create an even wider gap by high school graduation? Here's the evil genius' 15-point battle plan, in which he would:

1. Tell principals and teachers that students' classroom performance reflects their innate intelligence, which can't be changed by even the most effective teaching. This belief system would accelerate the performance of students who seem smarter to teachers and undermine the confidence and effort of those who don't.

2. Mandate tracking, with lower groups getting a slower-paced, basic-skills, test-prep-oriented curriculum and upper groups getting accelerated instruction emphasizing higher-order thinking skills. This would stack the deck in favor of advantaged students and lead lower-track students to conclude, the less I do, the less I'll have to do.

3. Assign teachers with a proven track record to high-achieving classes and rookies to classes with the most challenged students. Since teachers are on a steep learning curve in their first few years, and since low-achieving students are more dependent on effective teaching, these assignments would help high achievers and hold back the disadvantaged.

4. Curtail professional development in classroom management, which would have the effect of increasing discipline problems and do the most harm to students with weak entering skills and short attention spans.

5. Ensure that teachers keep the criteria for getting good grades a secret; after all, learning to read the teacher's mind is an important life skill. This would give an ongoing advantage to students whose parents inculcate middle-class expectations similar to those of teachers.

6. Encourage teachers to prepare lessons the night before, in isolation from their colleagues. This would maximize inconsistencies and discontinuities from class to class and grade to grade, ensuring that only students

with strong background knowledge from their families would excel.

7. Blame parents when students are reading below grade level and lack the "core knowledge" to understand the curriculum. This would produce ongoing confusion and discourage students who have difficulty reading and understanding textbooks and other materials.

8. Discourage schools from wasting their time on hands-on learning experiences, extracurricular activities, and field trips. This would give a significant leg up to students who can deal with a "book learning" curriculum because their families have immersed them in educationally enriching conversations, after-school activities, museums, concerts, and travel.

9. Train teachers to call only on students who raise their hands and to build on correct responses to maintain a brisk classroom pace. This would enhance the self-confidence of already proficient students and minimize class participation and engagement among those who enter with lower proficiency.

10. Forbid principals from making unannounced classroom visits, require them to base their annual teacher evaluations on lengthy write-ups of a single lesson, and discourage them from negatively evaluating all but the most egregiously incompetent teachers.

11. Require that all classwork and tests be summative, with students getting A, B, C, D, and F grades and little explanatory feedback. This would boost the confidence and achievement of students with strong entering skills and deprive low-achieving students of the feedback they need to improve--as well as constantly remind them that they are failures.

12. Tell teachers to give demanding homework assignments that can be completed successfully only with the assistance of well-educated parents. …

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