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Achievement Gap

  • 1.  Achievement Gap

    Posted 06-21-2019 07:29 PM
    Poverty, trauma, lack of resources, bias, institutional racism are just some of the potential factors that impact student success and lead to achievement gaps.  What are your "go to" tools and resources for understanding and addressing the achievement gap?

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    Tonya Satchell

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  • 2.  RE: Achievement Gap

    Posted 06-23-2019 07:23 AM
    Wow Ms. Satchell, I love your question!
    So often I think preschool teachers & other early childhood educators avoid thinking about the achievement gap in the direct context of our classrooms.  That would mean we are thinking about racial, ethnic, cultural & SES differences between our families, and early childhood educators are supposed to be non-biased and judgement free, right? So it can be an unspoken, "no go" zone. But the biases exist, & taking an old school, "color-blind" approach often translates into ignoring important differences that shape growing families, and presenting a classroom culture that assumes "whiteness" in many quiet but impactful ways.
    Addressing it can be incredibly uncomfortable. One way that I try and create a real, multicultural classroom culture is by inviting family culture into the classroom. Different people have different sensitivities about sharing their family culture, but I find that sharing family stories can be a good door opener, rather than direct questions at first.
    Embracing dual language families is also a cornerstone. Trying to post alphabets and written words, as well as making sure that your book shelves include books in many world languages is a great signal that your class embraces multilingualism. Making sure areas of interest reflect many family cultures is important too, from picture books, to baby dolls, dress up clothes, and dramatic play items, like foods from many cultures, these are all ways to give all family cultures a respected place in our classrooms.
    Creating wall displays and class books that include photos of families at home is very helpful, and leads to wonderful discussions. Openly and respectfully sharing about the different foods we bring to lunch, colors of hair eyes and skin, different accents and languages- these topics will come up, listening to questions without censorship and helping children learn appropriate, respectful & kind ways to talk about differences through modeling is critical.  Not talking about our differences can unintentionally lead to feelings of shame.
    choosing books, songs, art projects and other classroom activities from many cultures is also important- if you have a diverse classroom, including activities from family cultures can be very fun & enriching- this should happen at all the times of the year, but celebrating with a school wide multicultural day or week event can be a great kick off to set the tone!
    As a teacher, I think actively working against unintentional bias is also critical - I try to notice if I react to behaviors from some children that I ignore in others, and actively correct it. In general, I think looking for times to compliment each child on quiet, thoughtful moments, sharing, following rules, exuberant behavior, interesting ideas and athletic ability is more helpful than trying to treat every one equally- looking to catch a child you feel is rambunctious in a quiet moment for a compliment helps challenge our assumptions and labels, as does watching for outgoing moments from children we feel are shy or quiet.
    It it is also really important to have open communication with parents & caregivers. Rather than assuming we know all we need to know, asking questions and just listening to families is so important!
    As a family resource that can help create an equal playing field of books, compute exposure and other resources, I love the public library! I actually bring some library books into the classroom to share with children & families. Walking field trips to a nearby library are ideal, but often impractical or impossible for many schools. However, being familiar with the closest public library and sharing information about upcoming events and library resources can help bring new experiences and support to families. This is also true of connecting with neighborhood community centers or other resource centers helpful to families.
    i am excited to learn about other ways NAEYC members actively address the achievement gap, as this is a critical, and pervasive problem we all need to address.
    thanks for starting the conversation.

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    Margro Purple
    Rockville MD
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  • 3.  RE: Achievement Gap

    Posted 06-24-2019 08:37 PM
    Hi Margo! I appreciate your detailed ideas for classroom level ways to address these issues. And you're right, sometimes these conversations are uncomfortable. I view the solution to this line an upside-down triangle where intervention happens at the classroom level and then at the program level. Then, in order to really address the gap, we have to think about larger systems and policies that contribute to the achievement gap.

    As an aside, thank you for mentioning the public library! In this day and age, it's often a resource that is underused!

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    Tonya Satchell
    Johns Hopkins University SOE
    Columbia MD
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  • 4.  RE: Achievement Gap

    Posted 06-23-2019 10:05 AM
    Great issue!

    I think the policy direction that schooling has taken exacerbates the achievement gap. When we think of children who live in poverty, we think we need to drill skills into them that children from more affluent means are provided through their families. What we forget is that the basis for helping young children develop and learn is embedded in the relationships that adults form with the child. it is critical for the adults who work with young children to "know" each child and their family beyond the surface characteristics. This takes work for some teachers and administrators but this is the only way that we can work with families and help children trust that we care about them. Each child is not a child who only knows certain alphabet letters or can only count to 5. We must tap into their funds of knowledge - what they bring from their experiences outside school and from the families. Of course, the classroom has to reflect the children who are there and more.

    As a proponent of constructivism and admirer of Reggio Emilia principles, I believe we need to create rich environments for children where they have agency to follow their interests and which provide enough provocations that lead children to ask questions, which will lead to investigations that help children develop their understanding of the world and develop the skills that help to "close" the achievement gap. We need to expand their worlds with hands-on, direct experiences where they can observe, talk about, and touch the items that they are studying.

    Many of our students and families who are seen as part of the achievement gap have come from foreign countries -  let's tap into that. Teachers must look into themselves and examine their biases, their misunderstandings about the children they teach, and look at what life is like from their perspective. Figure out how to tap into the experiences that the children bring with them and move them forward in their learning. Be present for the families. Be willing to gently talk with them and get them to open up to their stresses and what they need from us to help them raise their children and what we need from them as well.

    My last piece of advice would be not to diminish the curriculum - what happens in the classroom - to a set of skills. We want children who think for themselves, are not afraid to ask questions, and delve into learning experiences with enthusiasm. Create an environment where children have choice in their activities. Create an environment where the principles of child development drive how we teach and our expectations for children. Remember that at the younger ages, the rate at which children develop varies widely and, in most cases, represents a perfectly typical trajectory.

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    Nora Krieger
    Associate Professor Emerita/ Chair NJEEPRE
    Bloomfield College/ New Jersey Educators Exploring the Practices of Reggio Emilia
    Highland Park NJ
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  • 5.  RE: Achievement Gap

    Posted 06-24-2019 09:27 AM
    In response to this discussion I would add the following:
    1. The ECE workforce needs to be adequately be trained before they enter a classroom.
    2. Our ECE service delivery systems needs to use the current research in supporting children and families. Other countries are using our research to inform practice and they indicate that it works!
    3. Elect policy makers that use the research to create developmentally appropriate legislation.
    4. This is a social justice issue and to make change we need to take the issue to the streets.
    5. Have courage to take this issue to the streets...do we the grit it takes to save children!

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    Steven Erwin
    Chico CA
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  • 6.  RE: Achievement Gap

    Posted 06-24-2019 09:40 AM
    Bravo!

    Read the Power to the Profession and answer the survey accompanying it. We are too timid as a field. I have always believed we need to take it to the streets.

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    Nora Krieger
    Associate Professor Emerita/ Chair NJEEPRE
    Bloomfield College/ New Jersey Educators Exploring the Practices of Reggio Emilia
    Highland Park NJ
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  • 7.  RE: Achievement Gap

    Posted 06-24-2019 08:49 PM
    Yes, Steven! All of what you said :)

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    Tonya Satchell
    Johns Hopkins University SOE
    Columbia MD
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  • 8.  RE: Achievement Gap

    Posted 06-24-2019 08:44 PM
    Nora,
    You bring up so many good points. Once I was visiting a pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classroom in a school and there were so many bright spots - the children had multiple outdoor play times, the kept boots in school for jumping in puddles during light rainy days, there was chicken coop and eggs that the children cared for, there were maker spaces and a huge library. And shortly after my elation, I became sad and looked around and realized that this was a private school, most of the children likely came from mid-high socioeconomic backgrounds, and very few were children of color. And it just made me sad because I looked at that environment and thought, this is the kind of environment that more kids need but that few will ever get.

    I agree with you - some are trying to fix the problem with a solution that can potentially have negative impacts - more seat time, more academic rigor, in my opinion, is not what's needed.  So how do we address the gap if our kids aren't even starting from the same starting point? It's a tough question and requires a tough solution.

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    Tonya Satchell
    Columbia MD
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