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Achievement-Gap Poll Points to Parents

When a big issue is raised, Edutopia bloggers get to blogging.

October 19, 2006

Should classes be separated by gender? Do you favor year-round schools? Can the No Child Left Behind Act be revised and improved? Since last April, when we launched the weekly poll, visitors have sounded off in increasing numbers not only with their votes but also with lengthy, thoughtful comments in's blogsg. Teachers, administrators, parents, policy makers, other professionals, and among them even people who avoid polls -- "Actually, I don't like polls of any kind," wrote R.D B. Laime, a consultant and former educator in New Mexico, "yet I wanted to respond" -- have all joined forces to produce a growing educational resource filled with good ideas.

The last time I checked, one recent poll had attracted a whopping seventy-four comments (the average number this summer has been ten to twenty), and these were not mere whispers. They were heartfelt rants, diatribes, numbered lists, well-sourced reports, suggestions, and even mini-novellas, if you will. In short, you (loyal poll participants) have had a tremendous amount to say.

So, what gets your goat the most? Looks like the award goes to . . . one of the hottest buttons in public education and a poll we posted on August 16: "What will do the most to narrow the achievement gap?"

In numbers of votes, that poll's "increased parental involvement" option topped the charts by a slim margin (though, from an educator's point of view, "that is not something we can always control," writes Mark Forbert, from L'Anse Creuse High School North, in Macomb, Michigan), with "school-by-school efforts" at a close second. But in Spiral Notebook, the majority of comments plead a firm "all of the above."

As Gary Metzenbacher, from East High School, in Columbus, Ohio, puts it, "I think that each of the suggestions we were asked to vote on need to be part of the solution. We need parental involvement. We need better funding. We need active recruitment of staff for schools at risk. We need social services to take care of the needs of at-risk youth. And so on, and so on." And many, many more echoed this sentiment.

Poll participants also insisted that high expectations for, and belief in, the abilities of at-risk students -- or those of any students, for that matter -- can do a tremendous amount to improve student achievement.

"One of the overarching goals," writes Sue Frederick, a sixth-grade teacher in East Haven, Connecticut, "should be for all schools to have high expectations for their students. Students are capable of more than teachers think they are. If a teacher thinks a student is a low achiever and teaches that student at a low level, they will not be exposed to all they could be. It's not easy, but I work in a school where it is happening."

And many agreed with her. "High expectation from teachers," comments Beverly Rowls, a reading specialist in Chicago, "and teachers who are willing to go beyond the call of the regular school day to research and act upon what works for individual groups of students are ways to reduce the achievement gap."

"We need to work diligently in changing public perspectives and beliefs that minority and poor children don't want to learn," Rowls continues. "Too often, such children have been told day after day, going into year after year, just how lazy, stupid, violent, bad, etc., they are. After a while, they internalize those beliefs and act on them."

Most of all, many contributors argue, change must occur not only in schools, in the degree of parental involvement, and in government policy, but also in the social mind-set. "No matter how much money or theory or political posturing we throw at education," Erin Griggs, an English teacher in Kansas City, contends, "nothing will change unless or until there is a sea change in how we, as a society, view education."

And that is precisely what we are all trying our darnedest to do: one kid, one parent, one teacher, one precious mind at a time. Thanks for your contributions, everyone.

Sara Bernard is a former staff writer and multimedia producer for Edutopia.

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