Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Winerip on Ronald Ferguson and Achievement Gap

This blog item ties in with the TFA Summit blogger pieces from this past weekend where "solutions" are merit pay, charters, etc - the ed deform program - where "class size" are dirty words.

I really hate the use of the words "achievement gap" but when Mike Winerip writes about it I take notice. His article on the research Ronald Ferguson has done lays down some interesting ideas that seem to undermine the basis of the ed deform movement - that poverty and race are used as excuses and it really is all about good teaching (preferably from the mouths of young Ivy Leaguers who had 6 weeks of training.) So what to make of this:
His research indicates that half the gap can be predicted by economics: even in a typical wealthy suburb, blacks are not as well-to-do; 79 percent are in the bottom 50 percent financially, while 73 percent of whites are in the top 50 percent.

The other half of the gap, he has calculated, is that black parents on average are not as academically oriented in raising their children as whites. In a wealthy suburb he surveyed, 40 percent of blacks owned 100 or more books, compared with 80 percent of whites. In first grade, the percentage of black and white parents reading to their children daily was about the same; by fifth grade, 60 percent to 70 percent of whites still read daily to their children, compared with 30 percent to 40 percent of blacks.
Ferguson also touches on a touchy subject for teachers:
He also works with teachers to identify biases, for instance: black children are less likely to complete homework because they are lazy. His research indicates that blacks and whites spend the same amount of time on homework, but blacks are less likely to finish. “It’s not laziness,” he says. “It’s a difference in skills.”
So yes, teaching can be a factor - but I always thought that being sensitized to the conditions the students are exposed to is way more important - teaching is not isolated from some level of involvement in understanding the lives of the children. Can that lead to excusing things? Guilty in my case. Did I think a child who was treated in a way at home that tore down his/her self esteem mean I as a teacher had to figure out a way to raise that self esteem or I wouldn't be able to break through and build trust? Hell yes. Did that at times lead me to not hassle kids over certain issues? Guilty again. I just didn't always have the skill set to be nurturing and demanding.

Here is some more from the Winerip piece with a link to the entire article:
He [Ferguson] is frequently quoted in the news media, and in recent months, he has played a major role in four important educational stories: the Gates study on evaluating teachers (his research shows that when kids say a teacher is good, they usually know what they’re talking about); the Council of the Great City Schools study of the widening gap between white and black boys (12 percent of black fourth-grade boys were proficient in reading on a national test, compared with 38 percent of whites); a front-page story in The New York Times last year on the effectiveness of big high schools (at a time when small schools are in vogue); and as a member of the eight-person New York State panel that decided whether Cathleen P. Black should qualify for a waiver to be New York City’s chancellor (he won’t say how he voted). 

Closing the Achievement Gap Without Widening a Racial One

NYTimes.com | Published: February 13, 2011


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