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Two Americas, One Storm

There is another "Achievement Gap" in America and it is gathering on the near horizon like a storm cloud. Mark my words. That storm will come and we will see our future as a nation engulfed in another predictable catastrophe that didn't have to happen.

I want Arne Duncan and our President to hear me. I am not in Washington DC or the halls of the state senate in Sacramento. I am at El Milagro and we are fending off foul weather.

Here's a gap that's deep and growing deeper by the day:

It starts in schools that struggle to keep pace. For whatever reason. Maybe it is the leadership, maybe it's the teachers, maybe it's the kids or the parents or the books or the pedagogy or the water or the facilities or the lack of light. In the end, it doesn't matter. Because schools that don't keep pace with AYP have to circle the wagons and teach harder. More reading. More math. Then more reading still. More math still.

And while reading and math crowd out the rest of the curriculum-- as schools eliminate science and social studies and the arts and physical education to make way for more focussed/rigorous/aligned instruction in basic skills (aka "test prep")-- something big goes missing:

Creative thinking, innovation, critical thinking, problem solving, application, play, self-discovery. Joy. Learning.

...the skills our kids need to compete for jobs. For economic growth. For America. For global survival.

So in communities where kids struggle against artificial goals enshrined by NCLB... they fall further and further behind in the very skills and attributes that prepare them for the 21st century workplace. Basic skills are critical... but Facebook and Google and Apple and Amazon did not become giants on the strength of the standardized test scores of their employees. They rise or fall on their ingenuity.

High performing schools and districts and communities have the luxury of ignoring the inherent threats of high stakes testing. They don't have to panic and fire their music teachers. They can sing and dance. They can prolong their analysis of world events and enter the local science fair. The can critique good art and celebrate the natural giftedness of their students. They can provide a comprehensive and enriched curriculum for all.

So the Gap widens. Can you see it? Low achieving schools, with their disproportionately large number of low income students, English language learners and other children of color, pressured to turn their fate around, are forced to abandon the very skills their students need the most-- the ability to create a new world. While their counterparts in high performing schools think and invent and find their wings.

That white and asian children consistently outperform Latino and African American children in reading and math on standardized tests is a problem. But that is not the only problem. And it certainly isn't the most urgent.

There are two Americas. For the past 50 years public education has been a primary force to eliminate the distinctions between rich and poor; between our many ethnic and racial differences. But we are the unwitting force now dividing the chasm anew. Two Americas. One storm. One nation falling like a house of cards.


Written by Kevin W. Riley
El Milagro Weblog

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