Racial Achievement Gap Still Plagues Schools

The big question posed by the NPR story below that has yet to be answered is whether lower-level classes can hold students to higher standards, or whether any sorting system sends the wrong message to students about their ability to learn. Tracking has been a fundamental aspect of education in the U.S. since the early part of this century when public schools devised a system of curriculum tracks in order to accommodate the diverse group of students attending school for the first time. Recently, tracking has generated a large volume of research and policy analysis. Here’s a summary from the National Center for Education Statistics:

“There has been much debate over whether or not tracking creates unequal quality in educational experiences and later opportunity (Oakes, Garnoran, and Page 1991). There is also concern about whether tracking perpetuates, rather than alleviates, differences in children created by socioeconomic stratification (Oakes 1992). This issue has been particularly relevant for educators and researchers concerned about equal access to education by minority students who, in racially integrated schools, are disproportionately represented in curricula designed for low-ability or non-college-bound students.” The National Center for Education Statistics also reports: “Postsecondary students who take remedial reading are about half as likely as those who take no remedial courses to earn a degree or certificate.”
Source: http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/2004/section3/indicator18.asp

Typically, students are assigned to levels by a combination of grades, test scores and teacher recommendations. Columbia Principal Lovie Lilly, who is African-American, conducted research on the experience of black students at her school while studying for her doctoral degree. “Black children in higher-level classes were ignored, or perceived that they were being ignored, or did not feel comfortable going to the teacher after school to get help,” Lilly says. “They gave up and decided to go to level three classes where at least there were other black children.”

Remediation is also costly. Here are annual estimates from one district that tracks this data, Maryland Public Schools:

  • Families pay: $283 million
  • Taxpayers pay: $978 million

How can schools boost the lowest performers while improving achievement for all?

What role do learning styles and multiple intelligences play in the educational outcomes of students?

How can we better prepare students for a love of learning and college level work?

Racial Achievement Gap Still Plagues Schools
by Nancy Solomon
October 28, 2009

American schools have struggled for decades to close what’s called the ‘minority achievement gap’ — the lower average test scores, grades and college attendance rates among black and Latino students.

Typically, schools place children who are falling behind in remedial classes, to help them catch up. But some schools are finding that grouping students by ability, also known as tracking or leveling, causes more problems than it solves.

To view this entire article and listen to NPR visit www.npr.org

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