The Achievement Gap

I was briefly scanning over my local paper online this morning when I came across an article that sparked interest in me. It was an article about how Minnesota students/schools are starting to lose ground to students around the nation.

I have many theories on this and while I am no politician or an educator, I was raised in Minnesota and was ‘blessed’ to move around enough to have spent almost 50% of my K-12 education in Private schools and the other 50% in Public schools. Not only that, but I was raised in a lower, middle class area until beginning of 6th Grade and then moved to an upper middle class area. So I believe I really saw many parts of both worlds and all types of schools, teachers, students, and parents.

I do not believe spending and or cost per pupil is the problem: I think we actually spend too much on our students, which I know many in my community are cringing right now, because we have a referendum on the ballot this month for raising our per pupil funds. While I love my community of Richfield, I think it is doing a rather mediocre job with many of its students. I think the heart is there, but Richfield is trying to be too many things to too many people. I think if you are super smart (in the K-6 levels) the schools and teachers hands are tied, if you fall too far below average, they try, but fail, because of too many students and too many flooding the special services of the schools. However, if you fit in the middle you are screwed too, because then you often get left on your own while the teachers and staff focus on the lower and try to figure out what they can do for the upper level students.

Now, I picked on Richfield because I have had experience with 3 (technically 4) of their schools, with 2 of my 4 children. Richfield struggled to educate both of my children which ended up with my oldest, and way too smart, child having to leave for a multitude of reasons. So I have experience with Richfield schools as a parent, and I actually really like our schools, but as the article said, the greatest achievment gaps are increasing between the lower socioeconomic and between black and white students….which I believe is one of some of the issues Richfield faces. We also have a high transient student population, with our high levels of immigrants, many whose parents don’t speak English well, or not at all. But, Richfield isn’t being singled out, students from even higher income and white, polly purebread neighborhoods and schools are losing ground to other students around the nation too.

Overall, Minnesota schools are still better than average, but not nearly as good as they once were. We are spending a lot more per pupil than many of our counterparts around the country, so why are our students slipping in reading and math?

Here are some theories, I have:

1) we are so focused on technology, we are forgetting the basics: I came from the generation that the teacher wrote everything on a chalkboard and students actually had to clap erasers after schools. We had computer a few times a month and it was on an Apple IIe playing Oregon Trail. We used textbooks, tooks notes with a pencil off a chalkboard, and learned keyboarding on a typewriter, not a laptop. When we looked up information for a report, we went to the library and looked it up in the card catalog, not online. We had to search and research, instead of just type into a search engine our subject.

2) We went to school (if a public school and still, many of the private ones too) with children from our own neighborhood: I spent my early years in East Bloomington and walked (gasp) from 83rd and 3rd Avenue to 77th and 4th(?) To my school in Richfield through 4th Grade and then walked from my house to our local public school for 5th Grade which was on 81st and Columbus (or around there). Everyone at my school was from my neighborhood, we all knew each other and many of our parents knew eachother. There was not only school spirit, but community spirit and there was accountability. If I screwed up or did something wrong, those other parents would take me aside and talk to me about it and oftentimes, things you did wrong at home you were punished for at school and vice versa. Teachers were allowed to tell you verbally how disappointed they were in you or your studies and they kept you in for recess, lunch, or after school if you didn’t finish your school work or were behind.
Now, we have open enrollment, which I personally believe has been one of the downfalls of schools, districts, and students. No longer is there such thing as a community school, no longer do parents know the other families, is there a sense of belonging and I believe it is to blame for the fall of many districts such as Richfield, Minneapolis, especially North, and others similar, we can’t keep our students because we border more affluent areas with typically better schools. But, I believe it is also directly hurting districts such as Eden Prairie and Edina where over-crowding and falling test scores are happening too.
I was shocked to learn that once upon a time, Richfield and Edina used to be rivals and similar in sports, education and other things, even though they were typically different status wise and income wise. I remember the days when North High was the power house in sports! Who doesn’t remember the Polars coming in and sweeping up victories in football and basketball for sure? Yet in less than 20 years, that high school is almost completely wiped out. The children haven’t left North Minneapolis, but the students have.

3) parents aren’t taking responsibilty for their children education anymore.

4) schools and educators believe they not only have the obligation, but the right to make our children more worldly, teach them equality(which doesn’t work or exist) and teach them many things that schools have no right or reason to teach our children things, it is up to families and parents to teach values, morals and such. Which, you can look at number 3 for why educators are believing they need to do those things.

5) unions and politicians: enough said…….

Oh I have to quit writing, one more thing……smartboards, while I think they are neat and fun, they aren’t needed. They are an extravagant luxury item that many of our schools cannot afford and shouldn’t be able to get until they get the BASICS back in order.

Ok, off to do my job, help my children get ready for school and feed them, pray with them and send them off into our broken learning system

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