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Leaping the Educational Achievement Gap

I am trying really hard to keep this blog from turning into a research paper. The fact that I've been staring at this empty text box for 20 minutes is a pretty good indicator that I am failing miserably. The thing is, this topic is complicated. What causes educational gaps to form/continue to exist? How do class systems, income levels, government funding, racial inequalities, standardized testing bias, immigrant social integration support, etc. all contribute to this nation-wide issue? I could write a dissertation, cite my sources, defend my thesis, etc.

But, this is a blog.

*If you get a hankering to read research papers where I ramble on about various topics (in organized ways with APA structure) let me know and I'll mail them to you. After all, I owe the government a couple zillion dollars in student loans for being allowed to write them.*

No. That isn't what we are doing here. We can't solve how to bridge the education achievement gap with 500 words and an "eye catching title." So, instead of focusing on bridging the gap, let's focus on leaping it. We know that it's there. We know the factors that go into creating a 1st world civilization that sees black children scoring almost two grades behind white children on standardized test scores (with hispanic/latino children seeing an even greater gap). We can work to change the overall educational infrastructure that leads to these ridiculous and disheartening discrepancies, but will we see them disappear before our own children leave school? Probably not.

So. We leap.

Three Ways to Leap the Educational Achievement Gap

1) Standardized Test Prep

It is no secret that the school system relies on standardized test scores for so much. The scores dictate which schools receive what funding, which school systems receive what ratings (which changes local property value and the economic health of the district) and even which school administrations stay employed. To a school administration, standardized tests are the single most important part of the curriculum.

Unfortunately, it is also no secret that standardized tests are inherently flawed. They tend to test the students test-taking abilities far more than their actual knowledge of the subject matter. Also, test designers often assume background knowledge that is most likely held by white, middle-class, students.

Classism is another highly influential factor in skewed test scores. In one example, an essay question asked, "What might a person do in order to deserve a key to the city?" Upper-class students were far more likely to have a base understanding of what perks and honors might come with being presented a "key to the city," where students of more modest backgrounds didn't have that built in schema.

So, how do you combat it? Yes, you vote for continued education reform. Yes, you get involved in your community. But the only way to make a change here and now under your roof, is to treat large standardized tests (like the SAT, ACT, etc.) as if they are their own topic (somewhat akin to foreign language). By bringing in a competent Test Prep Tutor, these topics and questions can be explained in targeted ways that make sense to the student, taking into consideration their own cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.

2) Stay Aware of Your Child's Curriculum

As the argument over whether or not to teach critical race theory in schools bounces around government buildings like a ping pong ball — it may be time to take certain educational topics into your own hands.

Depending on where you live, your child may be learning drastically different information about historical events that took place in and around this country. The US has a way of slipping propaganda into almost all of its historical curriculum under the guise of patriotism. For example, there are still text books floating around that state that Christopher Columbus asked the Native American people to make room for his jolly explorer comrades, and after sharing goods and corn, everyone went on their peaceful way.

If you choose to send your child to a school with a religious affiliation, the divergences you may find from scientific fact will increase even further. It is important to be aware of what your children are being taught, and most importantly, be there to explain and talk through topics that may have them confused.

3) Foster Complete Honesty at Home, and Trust Your Kids

Being an educator is hard. We know. We are in the business ourselves. No teacher wants to have to deal with a parent that so blindly follows their child's lead that they expect special treatment. That being said, it is important to build a relationship with your children where trust on both sides is strong. In the event that they feel they are being treated differently, or struggling unjustly at school, they should be able to trust you enough to come to you, and you should be able to trust them enough to confidently have their back.

My son is young, he is just starting Kindergarten, and he is definitely in the "tall tales" stage of his childhood (for the sake of my sanity and humanity in general, let's pray this stage is a short one). Recently, he came home from summer camp missing his pocket money, as well as almost everything else in his backpack. His flustered teacher had a very convincing story that he had given his money away to an older kid that he was attempting to befriend. My son swore that the money had been in his cubby and someone must have taken it. The teacher wanted me to scold him for giving away his money, as the child who had it was now upset that it had to be returned. As an adult, your first instinct may be to trust the other adult in the room, over the five-year-old who recently swore that he scraped his elbow by jumping from the roof of his school building "like Spiderman."

However, even if I had great reason to doubt that his money was simply missing (my son often gives away toys when trying to make friends) there is no way that I would scold him, in front of other adults and children, for something that he was adamantly denying doing. I would rather have his back, only to be proven a fool later (at which point he would be made to apologize to all parties for his lie) than to teach him, at this early age, that when given the choice between him and a random adult, I would believe the adult over his word. It is dangerous. And it sets up a situation where he needs to come to me over something more serious than a missing twenty dollar bill, but is afraid to for fear that I will not believe him.

Parenting isn't always black and white. But if this is the hill that I die on, then so be it. Trust your kids. If you have doubts, speak to them in private. But ultimately ensure that they know that at the end of the day, you have their back.


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