Kati Haycock had some good news and some bad news for urban school board members. The good news: Reading and math scores for elementary school students are up for all students, and the racial achievement gaps are narrowing.
The bad news: High school achievement is flat, and American students still aren’t faring well in international comparisons.
Haycock, the president of The Education Trust, was a keynote speaker at NSBA’s Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas, on Saturday.
America tells two stories about itself. First, we are the land of opportunity: Work hard and you can be anything you want to be. Second, each generation can ensure that its children will have a better life. “These are powerful and pervasive stories,” Haycock said, “but they are fast slipping away. Inequality has been rising fast.”
Everyone acknowledges that gaps exist before children show up at school. But once they get there, she said, “we give the kids less of everything. When they don’t do well on tests, we blame the kids, the parents, the culture. We don’t talk about what we did.”
She pointed out that on a macro level, more and better education is not the only thing that needs to happen to reverse the achievement gap and our societal inequality. “But on an individual level, quality education is the only way up. What we do in education is important to our economy and democracy.”
She encouraged conference-goers to consider the choices that are made in schools that widen achievement gaps, including allowing minority and poor students to be taught by less experienced and ineffective teachers. Another problem is teachers who have low expectations for their students, and teachers who don’t know what and how to teach their students.
Haycock recommended school board members start with collecting data so they can correct the inequalities of teaching assignments. She advocated for the Common Core State Standards as a way to help teachers increase rigor and expectations. She also suggested learning from other schools and districts that have been successful in narrowing the achievement gap.
“It’s not a long list,” Haycock said of her suggested solutions, “but there are hard things on it.”