There is no achievement gap among 1-year-olds. By the time those babies are 3, the gap is there. It’s firmly in place by kindergarten, when most children show up in public schools.
Ronald Ferguson, Harvard University economist and education researcher, talked to members of the Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) at its annual issues seminar in Memphis over the weekend about addressing and solving the black-white achievement gap in their districts.
Board members should look to three things: teachers, peers, and parents.
Successful teachers watch one another teach and talk about their students’ work together, said Ferguson. School board members can figure out if and how this is taking place at their schools by asking some strategic questions: “How are you organized? Do you have a professional learning community? Tell me how your teachers look at students’ work together? If they aren’t doing it, if you ask, they will start doing it,” he said.
Addressing student attitudes and paying attention to how they treat each other is another piece of the solution. “A majority of students say they aren’t trying hard when they are. Sometimes, it’s better to look lazy than stupid,” he said. “We have to get them to give one another permission to high achievement. Launch a conspiracy against your own youth culture.”
Parents are another important component, said Ferguson, not just parent involvement and engagement with the schools, but also parenting. He acknowledged that the topic of parenting is a sensitive topic, but differences in the way people parent account for some of the achievement gap before kindergarten.
“Black people don’t want white people come to their community and say, you don’t parent the way we parent,” he said. “We have to create a safe space to talk about these things.”
Ferguson said that school leaders, educators, and advocates need to think of closing the achievement gap as a social movement. “Inside a social movement, not everyone agrees, but they have the same sense that they need to move in the same direction.”
“There’s a lot of work to do,” he continues. “Keep it simple enough to wrap your mind around it, but not so simple that you blur the distinctions.”
Board members should not micromanage, he said, but “you guys can ask the questions and compare the notes on answering those questions. Get the ball rolling on things.”
For more information on CUBE, go to www.nsba.org/cube.