Medium 9781936763276

Overcoming the Achievement Gap Trap: Liberating Mindsets to Effective Change

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Ensure learning equality in every classroom. Investigate previous and current policies designed to help close the achievement gap. Examine predominant mindsets that contradict school missions to promote equal academic opportunities, and consider the psychological impact this has on students. Explore strategies for adopting a new mindset that frees educators and students from negative academic performance expectations.

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6 Chapters

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Chapter 1: The Historical Context of the Achievement Gap

ePub

You must maintain unwavering faith that you
can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the
difficulties
, AND at the same time have the
discipline to confront the most brutal facts about
your current reality, whatever they might be
.

JIM COLLINS

There are real measurable differences among the levels of educational benefit that various groups of students receive. These differences are popularly referred to as the achievement gap. Nearly all scholars, politicians, and professionals who are upset and moved to action about the achievement gap tend to focus heavily on the racial gap. Other than race, the second most discussed and analyzed factor affecting achievement inequality has been the issue of poverty.

Harvard University is a leading authority on this issue, and it has established the Harvard Achievement Gap Initiative (AGI), led by renowned scholar Ronald Ferguson. AGI is dedicated to the study and eradication of the achievement gap, which is defined as:

 

Chapter 2: A Practical Commitment to Equality

ePub

Of all our studies, history is best qualified
to reward our research
.

MALCOLM X

A strong disconnect exists in U.S. schools between what educators purport to believe and value and the actions they take regarding those values. While schools claim to be committed to equitable treatment and opportunities for all students, the reality reflects a different story. I assert that while many schools talk the talk of egalitarianism, they walk the walk of a meritocratic system. This has created a functional hypocrisy in our schools that perpetuates functional inequality.

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (n.d.) defines egalitarianism in the following manner.

1: a belief in human equality especially with respect to social, political, and economic affairs

2: a social philosophy advocating the removal of inequalities among people

In a society that lists equality as one of its core values, it would be logical that its systems and institutions embrace egalitarian idealism. This would explain why school mission and vision statements include terms like all, every, and each when referring to its goals for student growth and achievement. However, as chapter 1 demonstrates, the egalitarian ideal that public school systems claim to embrace has not evolved from ideal to reality. Most of the merit has been enjoyed by white and Asian students who speak English well and who come from households where their parents earn middle- or upper-middle-level incomes (Lezotte, 2001).

 

Chapter 3: Mindset and Cultural Change

ePub

Children should be educated and instructed
in the principles of freedom
.

PRESIDENT JOHN ADAMS

Our thoughts matter. How we think and what we think will have a tremendous impact on our activity as human beings and the quality of life that we enjoy. No concept embodies these principles more than the concept of mindset, which is the established set of attitudes each person has. It is the summary of our beliefs about the world and how it works, and it acts as the guide for our behaviors and decisions. I assert that the biggest issue related to closing the achievement gap is that we have the wrong mindset. If we can change the mindset, perhaps the strategies, structures, policies, and resources allocated for creating equality in schools have a fighting chance to work. This, in turn, will require enacting cultural change. In this chapter, I will outline the mindsets that can either perpetuate or remedy the inequalities illustrated in the previous chapters. I then suggest a framework for cultural change to use as a guide for developing the necessary mindset in schools to achieve equality for all students.

 

Chapter 4: The Superiority Mindset

ePub

We were never given the right by our creator
to feel superior to other people
.

IYANLA VANZANT

It is difficult to achieve equality in a society when there is a segment of powerful individuals who have defined themselves as superior and have committed their influence and resources to maintaining that superiority. It is equally as challenging when other people believe that the dominant group represents the standard of excellence and they judge all of their personal behavior and systems by that standard. Common ground is difficult to find unless all parties involved are truly working toward the same end. I contend that the time, scholarship, effort, and resources put forth to address the achievement gap were doomed to fail from their inception because there are people with a superiority mindset who have a vested interest in being defined as superior to others, and they will seek to protect it. This hardened set of belief systems creates the foundation for fundamentalist behavior in schools.

 

Chapter 5: The Victim Mindset

ePub

No one can make you feel inferior
without your consent
.

ELEANOR ROOSEVELT

If equality is to become a reality, the onus cannot lie on the shoulders of one group. Dan Lortie (1975) writes that “it is illogical to expect a group of people who have personally benefited from a system to become the catalyst for changing the system” (p. 74). I do not begrudge communities and school systems that strive for excellence for their students, but I believe that they are responsible for supporting policies and creating an atmosphere that protects their superior ranking to the detriment of other communities, schools, and students. So, what is the responsibility of the oppressed?

In a seminal 1951 work, Eric Hoffer, award-winning moral and social philosopher, sums up the dilemma of the oppressed perfectly:

Discontent by itself does not invariably create a desire for change. Other factors have to be present before discontent turns into dissatisfaction. One of these is a sense of power. Those who are awed by their surroundings do not think of change, no matter how miserable their condition. When our mode of life is so precarious as to make it patent that we cannot control the circumstances of our existence, we tend to stick to the proven and the familiar. (p. 7)

 

Chapter 6: The Liberation Mindset

ePub

Education either functions as an instrument which is
used to facilitate integration of the younger generation
into the logic of the present system and bring about
conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the
means by which men and women deal critically and
creatively with reality and discover how to participate
in the transformation of their world
.

PAULO FREIRE

It is clear that the measures taken in the past to close the achievement gap have not worked. Many resources have been dedicated to achieving the goal of academic equality in every public school, but the gap still remains, and it is as large as it has ever been. So, what will it take to close this stubborn gap? A change in mindset is in order. As established in previous chapters, this change will not be easy. There are people, communities, and systems that thrive off the feeling and status associated with perceived superiority. There are people, communities, and systems that feel comforted by the ability to blame others for their current station instead of an intense focus on self- and community improvement. The superiority and victim mindsets serve everyone’s interest except the students who are caught in the middle.

 

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