"The Achievement Gap" and culture

This week I'm writing a series on technology and "The Achievement Gap" on my social desktop. This is the second part of the series which takes concepts introduced by "The Achievement Gap" and puts them into a larger cultural context.

Administrators and educators in the United States are faced with balancing federal mandates like the "No Child Left Behind Act" and state concerns like closing "The Achievement Gap". When considering new practices in the classroom these complications need to be addressed along side the needs of students. Ultimately, I think these programs have lead to administrative tunnel vision towards the way technology and innovation can effect culture to solve many problems with less effort. In short, the current answer to literacy and dropout problems is to create more testing, increase teacher credentials and improve schools. While these are all good things that appear to directly address the problem while providing measurable results their effect may actually be limited by other factors. In my opinion, answers to these problems are better found through analysis than common sense.

NCLB, which Utah basically passed a law against in 2005, focuses on improving teacher qualifications through certification and degree programs and improving student performance through testing and "higher standards." As we've seen in my previous article on this subject, "The Achievement Gap" is closed by: improved school conditions, greater guidance and counseling and increased requirements at higher levels; and greater access to needed resources and literacy plans for earlier grades. There's also a cultural consideration in closing "The Achievement Gap" that implies some home and/or cultural influences can be accidentally or intentionally anti-education.

After taking a look at high level education policy in Oregon (which consistently performs well above national averages and expectations and makes annual improvements) I've found that there is no real position on the public relations problem that exist between culture and classroom. High level administrators may think that policies they enact wont effect culture or they're at a loss as to how policies do effect culture. In any case, it's fairly easy to see that measures are not being taken to undermine anti-educational cultural influences on children in Oregon. This probably comes from mentality that sounds something like "schools cannot break into homes and tell parents what to think or do." I wouldn't suggest that they should, that's simply the wrong way of looking at the problem.

"The Achievement Gap" indirectly challenges the idea of using technology in the classroom. This doesn't mean that technology will increase the education gap. OLPC shows this to be false reasoning; I think it is more likely that "The Achievement Gap" will be closed by introducing the appropriate technology to classrooms. However, commons sense says that implementing technology into the classroom right now in the United States, and Oregon specifically, is an exercise in futility because the children most negatively effected by the education gap are also most likely to be the children without access to a computer with internet access at home. If technology really does improve classroom results then the children that benefit most will already be in the upper median academically. This is where some less intuitive reasoning comes into play. I understand why administrators may think that introducing technology is lower priority in Oregon than the programs that have already shown to be effective that directly address educational issues, I simply disagree. My reasons for disagreeing will be the subject of my next post on "The Achievement Gap".

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Comment by Tina Bulleigh on August 5, 2007 at 1:03pm
Jared, I sometimes think that the some (not all) of the cultural gap relates a lot to S.E.S. In some of the research that I have read about students in poverty is that they have a hard time taking abstract concepts and making it into concrete ones. This would be my argument towards using technology to close that gap. Technology makes it possible for us as educators to make many intangible concepts and ideas concrete and relatable for students that lack many different life experiences. Just some food for thought.
Comment by Jared on August 6, 2007 at 8:38pm
Tina, I wasn't thinking along those specific lines, and you make a good point. Socioeconomic status has a major impact for many reasons. It's hard to pin down causes when we're talking about these large scale observations, but I think it's fair to say that links like the one you pointed out are important to consider. I agree that computer technology probably can help students make connections between intuitive concepts and concrete projects. It would be a very interesting to see a study that talks about this. Maybe you can share your sources?


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