It is well known that many scholars and pundits have found fault with the American educational system. Others have disclaimed the alleged faults, praising our system.
However, out of this ongoing controversy, there is consensus on one long-standing and nationwide problem must be confronted: the ubiquitous achievement gap.
From sea to shining sea, from the high plains to the sunny Gulf shores, poor, largely minority children lag behind middle-class children in reading and math.
Some correctly refer to the problem as a word gap. Even though there have been some glimmering signs of success in a few school districts, evidence clearly shows that the pernicious gap still exists.
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Given our meager and ineffective efforts to remedy the issue, the enduring gap should come as no surprise. What should be surprising, however, is that a considerable body of evidence points to the causes. Furthermore, we are well aware of proven strategies to remediate the problem.
So, if we admit the achievement gap is a problem, know the origin and how to remediate it, why does the gap persist?
One reason is simply the lack of money to hire more teachers to work with the deficient children. Another reason is the lack of commitment; we talk like we want to fix it, but we really have not been that committed to follow through with the needed action.
We halfheartedly set up ill-considered, complicated, high-falutin' programs which assuage many but accomplish little. Any true remediation likely will call for some restructuring of the classroom, the daily educational process or the educational system. Educators, especially administrators, are not known for their commitment to change. Innovation seems to be anathema to them.
A further stumbling block to confronting the achievement gap is that it affects poor, disabled, mostly minority children. Although it does not affect all poor children, it affects enough so that we can speak of them as a category.
It is not simply a matter of being poor. Rather, the problem naturally sprouts from the result of being poor — how the poor must live, what they know and don't know, the decisions they are forced to make, and what they value.
The culture of the poor encompasses single-parent families, stressed and ill-educated parents, no books at home, no money for outside enrichment activities, little access to libraries, little emphasis on learning, lack of training in child development, limited discipline and children spending too much time watching TV and engaged in questionable things instead of in age-appropriate learning.
Together, these factors tend to greatly hinder, if not preclude, a child's success. The result is that overworked teachers must attempt to teach these children the basic academic and social skills their parents neglected to teach them. Poor children enter school already behind. If intensive remedial work is not provided, these children will fall further behind and eventually will be lost.
If schools are serious about attacking the gap, they must spend increased time with the deficient children in reading and vocabulary-building from day one, until each child achieves grade level. This is eminently doable; it does not entail a complex strategy. It does, however, require a real commitment.
I emphasize, the achievement gap is a word gap and a reading gap. One learns to read by reading. Vocabulary is increased by reading. As vocabulary increases, reading becomes easier. Not really a difficult problem to solve, if one really wants to.
Neglecting the needs of these unprepared children is academic child abuse.
Dan S. Green of Frankfort is a retired sociology professor. Reach him at Dsgreens@aol.com.