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  • by Blaine Helwig

Chocolate and Title 1 Academic Inequities

Updated: Jul 1, 2022

Awhile back, I attended a national charter school founder’s lecture about his experiences opening new schools across the country. After the talk concluded, a question and answer period ensued. The person sitting next to me asked the speaker what was the general reaction from local authorities concerning opening a charter in their city.

The founder replied, “Usually, one of two reactions occur when discussing the opening of a new charter school – aggressive pushback or curiosity. But, in either case, I usually begin my reply by stating, ‘I have never met a kid who did not like chocolate.’”

The power of connecting children’s educational situations and their general affinity of chocolate – regardless of geography – resonated with me both fundamentally and empirically. After more than two decades of professional work in the public schools, I realized the chocolate metaphor summarized the common educational inequity issues in this country.

“Children are the same wherever you go!”

Educators who visit, volunteer or work in a significant number of Title 1 elementary schools in the United States realize the intrinsic commonalities of children largely outweigh their extrinsic differences. Children invariably have similar curiosities – personalities – interests – attention spans – and a desire to be successful. Put simply, “Children are basically the same wherever you go.”

Grade level curriculum lessons are designed For grade level standards, BUT…

There are two irrefutable points of school curriculum that dramatically affect all student learning, and Title 1 elementary schools and students classified as economically disadvantaged attending high socioeconomic status schools are uniquely and adversely impacted by these two conditions. First, all adopted daily core curriculum lessons are designed for grade level work. For instance, a fourth grade math book covers the fourth grade state standards in mathematics regardless if the standards are Common Core State Standards (CCSS) or Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). Second, all adopted daily core curriculum lessons assume that students readily possess the prerequisite skills of grade level core lessons. However, in the majority of Title 1 schools in the United States, students possess academic literacy and numeracy gaps. Consequently, regardless of the geographical situation where a child attends a Title 1 elementary school, not only do all children like chocolate, but more importantly, their academic literacy and numeracy gaps are highly similar – and fortunately – fixable with stop-gap literacy and numeracy resources!

Children possessing academic skill gaps must be accelerated back to the daily rigor of grade level curriculum standards. If not, then the classroom teacher is placed in a difficult position. The teacher is pressed to not only teach current grade level curriculum but also simultaneously fill a wide range of dependent prior grade level skill gaps that were previously not mastered.

Academic literacy and numeracy skill gaps? --- Let us fix them and be done with it!

The vast majority of the formative educational training, methodologies and preparation that prospective educators (teachers and administrators) receive are from the same educator groups. In short, our educators mostly obtain their educational knowledge from the same ‘thinking well’ or indoctrination source. After graduating from their teaching programs, entry-level educators arrive at the Title 1 schools and unfortunately discover that little of their formal indoctrination is empirically true. Inevitably, the result is the same. Both entry-level and seasoned Title 1 teachers are unable to significantly and consistently heighten student academic outcomes. However, for the sake of professional survival, ideological conformity in educational thought is frequently a necessity – or risk pedagogical dissident branding. This labeling often occurs despite elevated and sustained academic student outcomes and campus success in the most challenging of Title 1 settings.

As classroom teachers transition to campus administration positions, central office capacities and/or professors in the colleges of education, the dogmatic cycle repeats – and an incessant repackaging of ineffective curricular programming occurs. Since the low-income parents do not generally possess considerable political influence, there is not a formidable challenge to the ineffective ideology of public education. Not surprisingly, school year after school year, children of poverty continue to attend Title 1 public schools that fail to prepare students academically not only for the next grade level, but for life.

The national charter school founder is undeniably correct that kids will always like chocolate. Similarly, a great number of children of poverty will always arrive for their first day of kindergarten with academic literacy gaps regardless of the school’s geography. If educational equity is an objective, administrators and teachers require efficient and effective training to rectify elementary children’s academic skill gaps, or grade level daily curriculum will not be as viable as designed.

Pre-COVID or Post-COVID, it simply does not matter. The pandemic is NOT the problem when it comes to academic literacy and numeracy gaps. The pre-COVID equity dilemma is the SAME equity/academic gap issue as the post-COVID that Title 1 school principals must address - DIRECTLY. Unfortunately, now there are MORE children at Title 1 schools with academic gaps. Simply, there is just a bigger group of children with academic gaps that grew due to COVID distant school learning practices.

It is important to note that these literacy and numeracy gaps are NOT vanishing of their own accord or wishful thinking. There is focused work to do, and there must be structured plan that addresses those gaps FOR EACH CHILD, or again, the grade level curriculum will not work as it is designed. Grade level curriculum, regardless of commercial vendor, assumes NO ACADEMIC GAPS. Consequently, the literacy gaps can be handled with the free downloadable resources on this website, and the numeracy gaps can be eradicated by aggressively pressing Formative Loop daily numeracy program. If both traditional or charter school systems do not aggressively pursue this type of specific intervention work FOR EACH CHILD, then it is an absolute certainty that ineffective public education cycles, enduring academic inequity and poor student outcomes will undoubtedly continue, post-COVID.

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