How Cities Can Act to Close the Achievement Gap
The achievement gap in our schools is one of the most glaring elements of our struggling educational system. With multiple policies, practices, and reforms in place that hinder its improvement, it can be difficult to see how it can be fixed. Here are a few possibilities that schools and cities can pursue.
Establish a Task Force or Committee
Create a task force or committee specifically for closing the achievement gap. This task force will be responsible for creating and executing tangible plans and carrying out impartial funding procedures. They will keep schools accountable for properly gathering and reporting data on achievement gaps.
These committees should be comprised of superintendents, city officials, community figures, and most importantly, the mayor. These groups, says the Harvard Graduate School of Education can be established at both the city and district levels, with the mayor at the helm. These people should be heavily connected and involved in the city, therefore, possessing the influence to push initiatives through and sustain them.
Adopt Year-Round Schooling
Although it may seem like an enormous task, year-round schooling may be one of the most creative ways to close the achievement gap. Year-round schooling has the potential to address the gap in multiple ways.
Improve student performance:
Students will be in school, in their learning environment, more consistently with the year-round system. Students spend more time in the classroom, with the curriculum, and with their teachers. Without such a large break in between, students are more likely to retain what they learn.
Here, the relationship between teachers and their students can become more developed. This would especially be beneficial for English language learners and students from lower-income families. Having the opportunity to form more of a bond with their teachers will encourage students and motivate them to improve. Longer terms also mean that when students miss school, they will have more time to catch up with their peers.
Developing well-rounded students:
Year-round schooling would allow students to pursue other courses such as music or the arts in addition to their standard curriculum. Students would have the opportunity to explore their interests consistently in a stable learning environment while building up their confidence and sense of self. Given the chance, students may be able to tap into skill or passion that they would not have discovered before and have ample time to cultivate it.
Lessen teacher stress and absences:
As previously mentioned, longer terms will allow for teachers to delve into the curriculum more deeply with students. With the extended time spent with the curriculum, teachers will not feel pressured to cram and rush through the material. This will garner more chances for teachers to get to know their students, enforcing teacher-student relationships. Teachers will feel more connected to students and more involved in school life.
Additionally, teachers will have shorter but more frequent breaks to regroup and refresh. With this system, teachers will feel less inclined to be absent or take personal days in order to reset, reducing teacher burnout.
Technology in schools is offering alternative learning approaches for students who struggle with traditional teaching and learning methods. More resources are being developed through technology to make the learning experience more individualized and personal, enabling students to catch up through online courses or to take their education completely online. The versatility of technology has the capacity to reach a wider range of learners, with the potential to keep students in the running (and in control of their education) as much as possible. There is a lot of potential for students with disabilities, specifically through alternative input devices and sensory enhancers, as well.
Diversify Teaching Staff
Bringing more minorities into the classroom as teachers could also assist in closing the achievement gap. For example, Massachusetts prioritized diversity by creating a task force specifically for diversifying the school workforce. This task force was also responsible for decreasing the number of students of color who were suspended or expelled by pursuing options other than out of school suspensions. In Delaware, high school students rallied to bring more African American teachers to their schools, while in South Carolina, the Call Me MISTER program is currently working to recruit male minority teachers. There is proof that students will feel more inclined to go to school and, potentially stay in school, if there were more teachers who looked like them in the classroom.
Execute Definitive Programs
Work must be done to create and execute programs that can address the other possible causes for achievement gaps such as food, housing, and cultural sensitivity. In Washington, cultural competence training for teachers, staff, and administrators was enacted in an attempt to make their education system more culturally inclusive. In Connecticut, the state worked to provide affordable housing for low-income families, specifically near transit. The state had breakfast delivered to schools to help start students’ day and pushed for more family involvement in summer meal programs. Academically, the states also targeted at-risk schools with specialized programs, such as K-3 reading intervention programs.
There are numerous ways and definitive examples of how the achievement gap can be addressed. The success of closing the achievement gap lies with the district, city, and school and their ability to create a plan that will suit their students inside and outside the classroom.