March 29, 2020

The Achievement Gap Will Grow

This post was last updated on April 9th, 2020 at 12:40 pm

I had some thoughts on it a while back but in the light of our world today and my most recent post I think it’s worth acknowledging further. While the recent post was intended to shed light on the opportunities that exist, I did address briefly the equity issue but wanted to expand a little on that idea.

I’ve never been a big fan of the term achievement when it comes to learning. It seems like a term that invokes competition and constant goal setting. Not that those can’t be useful perspectives but it makes learning sound like a mountain to climb rather than an environment to live in.

Equity has become an increasingly important conversation in education. Whether it’s economic, physical, racial, cognitive or other, education has equity problems. Physical classrooms and spaces can address some of these but now with all our students at home, the differences among our students are fully amplified. Classrooms and schools while certainly far from perfect do many things to give all students opportunities to learn and grow. Teachers in general work hard and have some influence in addressing gaps and providing extra support to those who are disadvantaged. While this article focuses on higher education and the financial barriers, much of it is also relevant to K-12.

“I would like to think there will be a call for radical social change now, but I don’t think that’s going to happen,” she said. “The gap between the super-rich and everyone else will widen.

We’re already seeing the range of response to this new reality from parents. Everything from “leave us alone we’re trying to survive” to “why isn’t the school doing more”.

This leads me to two conclusions: First, we will not be able to do much to address the equity issues right now. What we can do is fully acknowledge and identify them so that when we reconvene we will be better equipped and aware to act. Second, the gaps will grow. Tied to the inequities that exist and can’t be fully addressed, gaps will grow. Parents with means will potentially be able to give their children the opportunity to pursue passions and learn more than ever. Those children who are facing poverty, abuse and other issues will fall further behind. While there may be small ways to address this, we are going to have to come to terms with this harsh reality.

These issues are relevant to all students but in particular, when we consider students with special needs we have added pressure and gaps. Many students and families rely heavily on the teacher and specialists in schools to maintain a sense of control and growth with our most challenging and needy students. When these supports that require proximity, patience, special tools and resources and expertise are removed, we will have parents and students that will be put in unthinkable positions. I’m certainly not an expert in this area but can only empathize and appreciate the burden many are feeling now and likely will not be able to address things with any degree of fidelity. I appreciated being able to talk with Monise Seward to understand better the challenges of special needs students.

All of this is hard for those of us who care deeply about children which I say is the vast majority of those who have chosen education as their life’s work. Certainly, we will use all the tools and time at our disposal to support them but it’s not going to be enough. I don’t say this as an excuse to give up but this I believe is a fact we have to accept. Teachers and schools should not feel guilty about this. It also speaks to the power and value of coming together every day to help children escape, even for a few hours their lives that may be filled with trauma. Hopefully when we do return it will create a greater sense of urgency to change this reality and realize what a gift and privilege it is to have children and adults spending time together in the same space.