Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Gap Gap

The devil, as they say, is in the details. It follows that the recently released Blueprint for Reform: The Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act has not much devil in it. That is not to say that those who have one agenda aren't finding fiendish elements to dislike about the bill, even as those with another agenda are singing its praises. The Blueprint, true to its metaphor, embodies Arne Duncan's "tight goals, loose steps" approach. The federal government is telling states they all must build college/career bound schools, but apparently the locals are going to get to pick out the cabinets and curtains.  There may be more to blog on about as devils emerge, but for now let's mind the gap.

The proposal uses the term "achievement gap" as in "closing the..." 9 times. Closing the achievement gap is clearly a worthwhile effort.  More than that, as the president states in his cover letter, having a more equitable education system, that is to say, one without gaps, is a "moral imperative."  My concern is that focusing on the achievement gap with little to no reference to the school conditions that cause gaps in achievement feels like putting on the roof before you've framed the walls. And that's just more of the same.

The achievement gap is not just a function of funding as the proposal sometimes hints and at other times overtly states.  If I take a great blueprint and a lot of money and build a school on sand...you get the idea.  Lack of money is one of a number issues, but not the most fundamental. The varying levels of achievement in our schools are as much about students not believing they can learn, not being actively engaged in their learning, and not finding a purpose in learning as they are about a shortfall of resources. These are concrete concerns. A foundation must be laid in supportive relationships, meaningful participation, and high expectations for all kinds of success (not just academic). If we don't mind those gaps in the building blocks for learning, cracks will continue to appear in student achievement.

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