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I've taught high school and middle school English from the South Bronx to Eugene, OR. The holy grail of education right now seems to be eliminating the achievement gap -- primarily among students of varied racial and ethnic backgrounds. I struggled to help my students in the Bronx overcome seemingly insurmountable deficits. They lived in one of the poorest Congressional districts in the country. They were not properly nourished. Their neighborhoods were filled with medical waste incinerators, drug dealers, crime....too many signs that society had given up on them.
A difficult question for our society is not how to close the achievement gap, but why the vast majority of students who are at the bottom of that achievement gap are racial and ethnic minorities. Why are they concentrated in poor neighborhoods, largely in urban areas? Why do their parents struggle more with unemployment, hunger, disease, prison, and homelessness than their white counterparts? How can we help them?
For many of these students, no matter how good the school or the teacher or the curriculum, it's TOO LATE to help then once they're in school. Hart and Risley did a groundbreaking study related to this. By age 3, a child's learning trajectory is largely fixed and their vocabulary (which is a result of the quantity and quality their parents talk to them) is an accurate predictor of future academic success and IQ. So children who are behind at age 3 will remain behind throughout their academic careers.
What will work for all students would be to give them an equal start - to begin with parents and their infants. As a society, we need to educate their parents to provide their children with the things they need for optimal prenatal and postnatal brain development: good nutrition, an environment rich in talk and reading, quality play, a loving and nurturing environment. Parents do what is best for their children with the tools they have. We can provide many more tools and more support to parents so that their children are not behind when they begin school.
Birth the Three, in Eugene, is doing work to help parents here.
Harlem Children's Zone is doing groundbreaking work in New York City to do this same work. http://www.hcz.org/
I think that this early work is our best hope.
posted 3 years, 3 months ago
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