• by Blaine Helwig

Achievement Gap Won't Close – Fix the Skill Gap and Gaps be Gone!

The achievement gap…

the achievement gap…

the achievement gap…

AND, the achievement gap…

The achievement gap cliché is a seemingly never ending mantra. More importantly, ‘closing’ the achievement gap via the approaches endorsed by college professors, state agencies and school districts, indicates the following certainty – it is never going away. They will never close it. After the allocation of trillions of taxpayer dollars over the last 50 years, if it were closeable using those methods, it would be gone by now.

What is the achievement gap?

The ‘achievement gap’ (Wikipedia) refers to the observed, persistent disparity of educational measures between the performance of groups of students, especially groups defined by socioeconomic status (SES), race/ethnicity and gender.

Generally, the ‘achievement gap’ is measured using standardized test scores. For example, by comparing the average test performance of children classified as economically disadvantaged students and those that are not – or by comparing average test scores of children of color and those of white students identifying a performance difference. It can get complicated when comparing so many demographic criteria, but if lower-income students are performing at comparable levels to higher-income children, the majority of inequality ills rapidly disappear regardless of definitions and comparisons.

Why is the achievement gap not closing?

The achievement gap is not closing primarily because there exists an inequality of fundamental literacy and numeracy skills between the non-Title 1 and Title 1 schools. The achievement gap can’t be fixed unless the pragmatic problem of grade level deficient reading, writing and math skills are directly addressed in the Title 1 elementary schools. Low income students arrive at schools with comparable basic word and vocabulary deficits. The quantity and quality of research on this phenomenon by Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley is as remarkable as it is telling. Their research work in the 1980’s and 90’s should have been viewed as a springboard for action and Title 1 reformation practices. Apparently, it was not. It is 2017. And, the educational inequity continues.

Unfortunately, I never read a word of Hart and Risley’s research work until 2012, and only then, by happenstance. By that time, I had been an urban Title 1 elementary principal since 2007 and my school, Graham Elementary School was recognized as a National Blue Ribbon and a National Blue Ribbon Profile School by the United States Department of Education for academic excellence. I had developed a stop-gap resource methodology implementing simply designed literacy resources to ‘academically catch-up’ low income students – a praxis model. The research studies identifying the language issues were spot-on and the solution was not complicated. The schoolwide programs started in kindergarten and classroom teachers of any experience level could effectively implement them. Regardless of race or native language – the literacy stop-gap programs worked. For the math skill gap, the schoolwide differentiated numeracy program remedied math skill deficits in only one school year. District adopted grade level language arts and math curriculum were suddenly effective, and Graham was one of the most academically successful Title 1 elementary schools in the country.

My partner implemented the same stop-gap resource literacy and numeracy programs at Blackshear Elementary, another urban Title 1 school in Austin ISD. No surprise – same academic results – same State and National awards. So, what is the secret of these Title 1 academic successes? It turns out that the illusive achieve-ment gap is actually a skill gap – ameliorated with simple campus systems, resources and personnel adaptations.

The cost of the literacy stop-gap programs? Nothing. They are free – download and implement. The numeracy stop-gap program is a Formative Loop product. Program information can be found at the Stop-Gap Resources Link on the New 3Rs Education Consulting website. Title 1 school teachers and administrators are working diligently every school day. Hard work will always be required, but why not use effective tools that produce academic results and educational equity?