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The Persistent Achievement Gap in New York City: A Summary

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Some readers asked me to put together a summary about the achievement gap in New York City:

1) Proficiency rates, or the percentage of students passing a test, are often used to measure achievement gaps. For example, if 90% of white students passed a test and 65% of black students did, some observers will say that the achievement gap is "25 points."

2) Proficiency is a misleading and inaccurate way to measure achievement gaps. Primarily, the problem is that we cannot differentiate between students who just made it over the proficiency bar and those who scored well above it. Proficiency rates can increase substantially by moving a small number of kids up a few points - just enough to clear the cut score. But black and Hispanic students may still lag far behind their peers even as their proficiency rates increase.

3) The most valid way to measure gaps between groups is to compare the test score distributions of the groups. What this means is that we compare average scale scores as well as differences between low-scoring white/Asian and Hispanic/black students (i.e. students scoring at the 10th percentile of their respective groups) and differences between high-scoring students (i.e. students scoring at the 90th percentile of their respective groups. In my posts last week, I focused on average scale scores - next, I'll take a look at the whole distribution.

4) When we compare average NAEP scale scores over time, there is no change in the white-black and white-Hispanic achievement gap in NYC for any subject or grade level. (See reading and math.)

5) In grade 8, the black-Asian and Hispanic-Asian gaps have grown: The black-Asian and Hispanic-Asian gaps in reading, and the Hispanic-Asian gap in math, have grown substantially and these differences are statistically significant. The black-Asian gap in math has also grown, but the differences aren't statistically significant.

6) The end result is that the average black and Hispanic student in New York City is as far behind - and in some cases, further behind - their white and Asian peers as they were five years ago.

In sum, we need an Educational Equality Project, indeed - but for black and Hispanic kids' sake, let's hope it's not modeled off of New York City's faux progress in closing the achievement gap.
9 Comments

In other words, we need both a real EEP and the Bolder Broader Challenge. With leadership coming from Obama, not the teacher-bashing faux accountability of the Bush years, we can start anew.

If we don't just want to fight each other continually, we could agree that "schools alone" can make a difference, but only if we define schools alone as schools that are not alone, but social where social services are integrated into the school and students are integreted into the community. In regard to accountability, Bill Clinton got it right when he spoke at the Harlem Childrens Zone.

I know we can't afford the full Obama "Christmas Tree," but there is no reason to continue the scourched earth policies of NYC and NCLB.

If both sides got 1/2 a pie each, utopia wouldn't happen, but we could make real improvements for real kids.

Well put, John Thompson. We need to recognize that schools do not bear all the responsibility for student performance - students, families, and communities need to shoulder a larger part of the effort and accountability.

I'll "second" John Thompson's thoughts.

Sometimes it seems that all education debates (reading, math, standards, accountability...) devolve quickly into two warring camps that lose sight of the heart of the issue: education is complex, and there are no silver bullets.

To say that schools can't do everything is not to say that schools can't do more. And to say that schools should do more is not to say that they can erase the achievement gap in the 20% of a student's waking hours that is school time.

It seems that policy discussions put a lot of time in to debating who's right rather than trying to combine the insights of both "sides" into strategies that work for kids.

only if we define schools alone as schools that are not alone, but social where social services are integrated into the school and students are integreted into the community.


1.) There is no evidence that this integration will achieve any positive educational results for the children. All it will do is increase the power and influence of the education establishment.

2.) Sorry to rain on everyone's parade, but the evidence of parents voting with their feet is overwhelming - even touchy-feely liberals, if they can access alternatives, won't sacrifice their own children by enrolling them in schools with high NAM populations. Don't get me wrong, they're fully on-board with all plans to send other parent's children into such schools in order to break up the concentration of sub-optimal behavior and performance, they just don't want to volunteer their kids.

3.) As a corollary to point 2, there is an upper ceiling on how much funding people are willing to offer in order to increase the funding for educating children outside of their own district. So long as touchy-feely types get to spend "other people's money" they're fully on-board with calls for increased funding, but when the bill lands on their doorstep and funding is cut from the school that their little precious attends, in order to equalize funding, then all hell breaks loose.

4.)This call for more integration of social services into the schools is based on a false premise. It's apparent that few people understand that the heritability of behavior and intelligence increases as a child ages. This is important to keep in mind because these social services are most effective when a child is young, that is, when their environment can be more fully controlled by the adults who care for the child. The gains provided by the increased control of environment are, however, temporary. Even if you warehoused all kids in the school and isolated them from parental contact, thus as fully as possible equalizing their environment, you'd still have performance variance due to each child's innate characteristics, and this performance variance would only grow as the child aged (the complete reverse of most people's intuition, which is that more years spent under the same environment will yield converging performance metrics.)

It seems that policy discussions put a lot of time in to debating who's right rather than trying to combine the insights of both "sides" into strategies that work for kids.

And what exactly are these strategies that work?

And what exactly are these strategies that work?

I find the evidence for pre-K and early childhood interventions fairly compelling, and the evidence for the benefits of longer school days/years somewhat so. I think there's evidence that a certain amount of testing keeps schools focused on academics -- but I think we're currently at the wrong place on the cost-benefit trade-off curve for that reform.

I suspect most educational reform proposals are built around some grain of insight and truth -- but I think they too quickly become promoted as the one true answer, rather than a piece of a complicated puzzle.

But I'm not an educational nihilist. I don't look at my daughter's education and say "her parents' had good SAT scores so it doesn't matter whether she does her homework or what the curriculum is," so I don't see why I should assume that good schools and good educational practices are less important for the achievement of other people's kids than they are for my own kid.

I find the evidence for pre-K and early childhood interventions fairly compelling, and the evidence for the benefits of longer school days/years somewhat so.

Two interesting strategies and we seem diametrically opposite each other. The gains from early childhood intervention are transitory, so while I acknowledge that there are gains in the here and now moment of that child's life, 5 to 10 years down the road you don't see much difference in educational outcomes between that child and another who didn't receive the early childhood intervention because as they get older they form more and more of their own environment. As an educator you can't control the environment of a 14 year old to the same degree that you can for a 4 year old. When the kid starts exerting influence in shaping his own world then you lose the ability to prevent them from making bad choices.

As for more time on task this strategy does yield results but comes with the politically unpopular baggage of tracking. There will be no relative improvement if ALL children are forced into attending schools for more hours per year. What needs to happen is that children who aren't meeting "real" proficiency targets are diverted to schools that run more hours per day, more days per week and more months per year. Having to face the uncomfortable truth that one child in the neighborhood can have a traditional school day/week/year while another has to commit to 50% more time in school is going to upset a lot of parents.

so it doesn't matter whether she does her homework or what the curriculum is," so I don't see why I should assume that good schools and good educational practices are less important for the achievement

Here's the thing: Exactly how much do busywork homework and new fangled curriculum contribute to the achievement enjoyed by a child? The principle limiting factor on how much education is absorbed is the child. If new fangled curriculum was so influential then we should expect to see no homeschooled children enjoying academic success because they weren't taught by educated professionals using the newest techniques developed in Ed. Schools, yet we clearly do see homeschooled children who are thriving in their environment.

So, again I ask what strategies that work are we going to implement? I see lots of frantic concern and frantic action, but in the end the action seems to be designed to show people that something is being done even if it doesn't work and the things that will work won't get done because they're unpopular.

"It's apparent that few people understand that the heritability of behavior and intelligence increases as a child ages"

TangoMan you are right. I don't have the first clue what you are talking about, if by heritability you mean genetically inspired or innate.

Rachel, I will echo your plea about looking for some middle ground. My biggest problem with the Bolder Broader Challenge is that if feels suspicious coming from a set of institutions that have tended to see themselves as isolated islands disconnected from the ills of neighborhoods and communities. These "missionary" efforts have not seen themselves as connected to problems of poverty, racism, poor health care--but as somehow providing (frequently rejected) paths away from these problems. They have a hard time understanding why parents, students and community members are not doing everything possible to emulate the lives of their teachers. They have done precious little to explore possible connections to entities within their communities working on exactly the issues that they now want to take on (and presumably receive funding for).

My middle ground proposal would be to offer support to school initiatives that build networks and collaborative efforts with existing social services within their local area. There are incredibly rich opportunities beginning with such things as co-location of services (provision of before and after-school programs in school buildings, shared library space, recreational facilities, etc). This is really a minimalist beginning--but one that exists in too few cases. Comprehensive planning for needed community services is another venue. In the end, though, the inclusion of social services within the purview of educational concerns will require major paradigm shifts within the field of education. Schools will need to actively demonstrate a concern for those students that they fail to reach--and what happens to them next. If schools were to be the primary provider of educational services to students that they "refer" to the juvenile justice system, perhaps they would realize the enormous cost of doing so and seek other, earlier, solutions.

For my part, I will gladly support such efforts as Bolder, Broader, when I see schools demonstrating a willingness to work with the current providers of Bolder and Broader services.

They have done precious little to explore possible connections to entities within their communities working on exactly the issues that they now want to take on (and presumably receive funding for).

I guess I haven't interpreted the Broader-Bolder effort as a call for schools to necessarily be the service provider, but as a call for states and localities to see social services as an integral to education -- instead of the current CA situation where education and social services jostle for resources in the budget process.

"I guess I haven't interpreted the Broader-Bolder effort as a call for schools to necessarily be the service provider, but as a call for states and localities to see social services as an integral to education"

Rachel:

In the US, where so much of education is localized, what are the barriers to seeing this now? What would it take to get education (at the local level) to some of the existing community tables within the social services?

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