Archive for the ‘Achievement Gap’ Category

[This was posted from the Kettering Foundation meeting on September 20-21, 2007 with 12 sites working on the project, “Too Many Children Left Behind”. For more information about the project visit the Project Home Page.]

Question posed by Charlie Houser:

Think about What would you like to learn from other people who share this journey? What will we share with each other?

  • Very helpful to hear that there is a variety of ways to do this work – highly structured vs. organic.
  • Want to drill down a little further into groups that are farther along. How did you handle communication, for example? Did you do powerpoint presentations of your data?
  • How do you handle diverse participants? How do you get them to the table so that your participants reflect the community?
  • Some groups may be more sophisticated than others. Do you frame this in term of a gain or a loss? What is more affective in getting people to show up?
  • How do you get the internal district or state systems to actually change? System has to change. After you instigate the conversation, how do you make the bridge
  • What are our AHA moments. In this movement, we are trying to organize others to do what we are passionate about? To plan a process to get others engaged in this process?
  • How do we communicate when a major shift has happened? This could keep the energy up if we can help people see that something is happening. We should ask people how they would like to hear back from us after the forum.
  • Post media articles about what our partners are doing.
  • How do politicians successfully frame the issue?
  • What are some limitations that people have / are struggling with?
  • We are all in different positions in doing this work.
  • How did people take action? What were the last words people heard at the end of the forum and how did that lead to something happening. How will we monitor that action?
  • Can we get ideas about the budgeting? What will others be doing that are a little less than the $132,000 budget of the E3 partnership in Central Texas? [resounding “yes” and much laughter from the participants.]

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Forum Strategies

[This was posted from the Kettering Foundation meeting on September 20-21, 2007 with 12 sites working on the project, “Too Many Children Left Behind”. For more information about the project visit the Project Home Page.]

Participants will be divided into three groups each with a different focus on forum strategies:

  1. Community and school district relationship (planning, specific and general)
  2. Policy Impact – local, state, other
  3. General public awareness

Each group will consider:

  1. What can you do with the content from the forum to create action?
  2. What can you do with the people and energy to create action?
  3. What counts as action?

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[This was posted from the Kettering Foundation meeting on September 20-21, 2007 with 12 sites working on the project, “Too Many Children Left Behind”. For more information about the project visit the Project Home Page.]

Our partner groups are back together in pairs talking about their questions regarding leading and organizing forums. We now have a long laundry list of things to cover later today, but hopefully will cover many of their issues during our conversations over the next two hours.

  • How do we build trust to create an atmosphere where people will be open?
  • How do we get more people to the point of readiness to begin to grapple with this issue?
  • What is the point of having a conversation with the same people?
  • How does the moderator stay neutral?
  • Who do we bring the audience that will make the change – the people who have left the public school system
  • How do we engage those who don’t believe there is an achievement gap?
  • Why are we limiting the conversation of the achievement gap to an issue of race not to all issues, i.e., gender, all ethnicities, socio-economic, etc.
  • How do we frame the issue so that it is inclusive of all communities, not just the Black community?

  • How do I identify potential moderators?
  • How do I train moderators?
  • How to set the tone?
  • How to respond to strong personal opinions
  • How to nurture the tension and avoid conflict
  • Structural framework with guidelines
  • Where to hold forums? and when?
  • How to recruit participants?
  • What number of sessions?
  • Who to invite
  • What to provide – food? coffee? gift for coming?
  • Size of group?
  • Should superintendents, board members and administrators be silent observers or participants?
  • Time constraints – one meeting is too short, but will people show up for multiple meetings?
  • Framework / structure – only these three approaches?
  • Translation strategies that work best?
  • Getting to Action?
  • What do we want out of the meeting / what are our goals?
  • Who shall I select to attend?
  • What do we do with the lata locally after the conversations?
  • Are we working to have the conversations regardless of the process / technique?
  • To what degree does the nomenclature of the forum moderator determine forum outcome?
  • Who sensitive should we be to community make-up in our efforts to attract participants?
  • Do organizers have to be very conscious of the sources or local data they present up front? ex: academic data vs. social data such as incarcerations rates
  • What is/are some of the thet messages to recruit / attract participants to the conversation?
  • How do you suggest the purpose of the forum? e.g., Why are we talking about this issue?
  • What could be the role of the media?
  • Is there a value of small groups vs. large group participation?
  • How do you communicate what is at stake?
  • Do we know where we are going with this?
  • How do you create an action plan coming out of the data?
  • Capturing data is not an action plan.
  • The importance of data facts.
  • How are we “poverty pimping”?

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[This was posted from the Kettering Foundation meeting on September 20-21, 2007 with 12 sites working on the project, “Too Many Children Left Behind”. For more information about the project visit the Project Home Page.]

We conducted a forum for on the Achievement Gap for the twelve communities that will be using this issue in their community. These are some of the nuggets that came up in our reflections.

Sometimes “politeness” is a victory. Yesterday after our forum several people commented on how polite everyone was during the forum and it was cast as an example that we didn’t go deep enough into the issue and get to the tough aspects of the issue. But when we are dealing with difficult issues that are likely to incite passions in people, the ability to engage with the issue and diverse perspectives in a polite and civil manner should be a point of celebration.

Consider the issue of power dynamics, particularly when there are people in the room who have “titles” and a perceived level of authority or expertise. The school superintendent (who has charts and graphs at hand and can rattle of hours of data) is no more of an expert on the issue of the achievement gap than a student who sits in a classroom. In our example, the moderator chose to sit at the table rather than standing because that leveled the power dynamic.

Illuminate tensions. For example, in our forum, one participant talked about the fear that students will be victims of “tracking” if we DON’T have high expectations for everyone, but another participant talked about having expectations that are relative to the child’s capacity. When do we move from being sensitive to each child’s capacity to the point where we are tracking children. Another point of tension is when those decisions get made about a child’s capacity. A child who can’t read in the second grade may still go on to be a great novelist. If we adjust our expectations down for that child, he may never fulfill his potential.

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[This was posted from the Kettering Foundation meeting on September 20-21, 2007 with 12 sites working on the project, “Too Many Children Left Behind”. For more information about the project visit the Project Home Page.]

  • A different approach to fundraising
  • People to be invested who aren’t currently participating
  • Accurate understanding of what it is and implications
  • Change the culture of how education is valued
  • Kids don’t know about the achievement gaps. How do we make this relevant to them?
  • Encourage the voices of the youth in dealing with the issue
  • Understanding of what the community can do to impact
  • Tangible action
  • Engage the community to hold elected officials accountable
  • All citizens to feel responsible for all kids
  • Parents to become empowered to reach other parents
  • Engage the unusual suspects, business, retired, those not in it
  • Achievement gap language move from abstract to relevant to students, individuals
  • People feel motivated to act
  • Bring us insights about difficult challenges – race and poverty
  • Deal with impact on all students and outcomes for the community connected to that
  • All sectors of the community might understand rights and responsibilities connected to the gap
  • Affect the way universities teach teachers to teach
  • Structures and policies to achieve gap to be impmlemented
  • Understand impact on future workforce, students understand the saem thing, teachers, parent
  • Common ground – people getting on the same page, getting through difficult issues to do things
  • Policy-maker, teachers, media to stop blaming the children for not reaching potential
  • A public will to create union contracts that support eliminating the achievement gap
  • A conversation that doesn’t include blame anymore, a commitment
  • Outrage
  • Testing has to be viewed differently because it causes kids to shut down

Reaction to the list:

I don’t think alot of us as adults realize twhat power we have so our kids don’t understand what power they have. We never question the underlying factors behind policy decisions. Our kids don’t question. They don’t have anyone to teach them to speak up!

The Achievement Gap is a complex issues which suggests that there is no single answer and that it needs multiple actors.

Nobody used the term “no child left behind” which is legislation that should be kicked out of the door because it doesn’t measure real learning. Teachers are teaching to the test.

[Group is anxious to move into the forum. It’s a good thing we moved the forum up to the afternoon time slot because it would be painful for them to sit here and NOT talk about the issue.]

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[This was posted from the Kettering Foundation meeting on September 20-21, 2007 with 12 sites working on the project, “Too Many Children Left Behind”. For more information about the project visit the Project Home Page.]

Here are the ways that people in this room are hearing others in their community talk about schools and the Achievement Gaps.

“Those Black kids don’t want to learn, teachers don’t have high expectations. I can’t make changes”

“Put more resources into programs.”

Specific examples: kids can’t do elementary math.

“Fear of violence has priority over any conversatoin about achievement gaps.”

“The education system is a funnel for the prison system.”

“Those parents don’t care.”

“They (Black Administrators) messed it up so the state has to fix it.” (State has taken over this particular school system.)

There are all measures of achievement gaps. It is not just an issue of Black/White

There is a gap between the teaching style and learning style.

“We all don’t know the role that expectations can play.”

“I don’t want my kids to go to school with those kids.”

“We’re doing as well as and in some cases better than other urban schools in our state.”

“The test scores are disappointing. The standards keep changing.”

“Segregation is directly related to the achievement gap.”

“Black teachers don’t have high expectations for kids either.”

“If parents would do more for education than gym shoes they’d be better off”

Mobility, peer pressure not to learn, “it’s not cool to be smart.”

“Kids ride the bus 4 hours per day.”

“Standards are brought down by the disability students.”

“It’s better to have the kids start at a two-year institution or take two years off because they just can’t cut a four-year university.”

“I can’t make my kid go to school.”

“It’s the teacher’s job, not mine.”

Uncertified and unqualified teachers.

“All schools are horrible, but mine is great.”

“What I’m learning in school is not relevant to my learning.”

“What I’m exposed to is not on the test. They are teaching me what’s on the test.”

“Problem is that Asian and White students are learning too rapidly.”

“To be smart means you have to act white.”

“Too many substitutes.”

“The college entrance exams don’t test what we teach.”

“I don’t do it because I don’t have to. There’s no reason why I should do anything.”

“There are bullies at my school. I don’t want to go to class.”

“My schools are so broken, they’ll never be fixed so I’m taking my kids elsewhere.”

“The whole system should be trashed and we should start over.”

“They don’t come to me prepared.”

“Private schools are worse than public schools.”


  • It’s accurate.
  • It’s negative
  • None of them are forward moving – none said, “we have to do something about this.”
  • Only toward the end, did we hear the student’s perspective

There is a wide disparity in the quality of guidance counseling and it is particularly poor for Black children. Also kids don’t realize the importance until their senior year. Then they panic.

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[This was posted from the Kettering Foundation meeting on September 20-21, 2007 with 12 sites working on the project, “Too Many Children Left Behind”. For more information about the project visit the Project Home Page.]

San Francisco and Central Texas

San Francisco: New partners in this effort, coming together to partner bringing together their skill sets. Looking at small schools for equity design.

Central Texas: Partnership with E3 Alliance and the school superintendent convening forums in six communities in Central Texas in partnership with E3, Austin Voices and Texas Forums.

Minneapolis and Illinois

Minneapolis: Cutting across the various sectors in the community to address education and bring life to connecting learning in the classroom to what happens in real life. Put young people in jobs with real businesses where they can apply skills and learn from people on the job. Helping students recognize that they need to have a life plan so that kids know that education is important. Strong skills: how to mobilize the business community.

Illinois: One partner has worked on truancy issues in Nigeria where kids can leave school and earn more or get married early. These are key issues in this country – kids having a short term perspective being lured into money-making endeavors, and teen pregnancy. The other partner has strong community organizing skills with is a common skill between the two sites. In the community of Boling Brook, the community is growing rapidly and is very diverse, but does not have the divided pockets where racial groups clustered. Even local politics is fairly tame. But reaching across organizations has not been done.

Corpus Christi, Helena, AR and Cincinnati

Helena, AR: working at a very grassroots level on the issue of poverty which is interesting because often conversations around AG focus on whether it is an issue of race or poverty and we know that it is both.

Corpus Christi: Represented by an LEF program working with all grades. A smaller organization started in response to the high number of drop-out students. Focus on grassroots inclusion. Organization has been around since 2003.

Cincinnati: KnowledgeWorks Foundation has researched and studied where education is going, the impact of technology. The community is involved in a project called, Stride that is looking at community engagement and involving people in conversations about education with the hope to institionalize engagement. Over-the-Rhine is the community that was featured in Traffic. Work with Community Learning Centers. UC CAT is working to support students at the university in Cincinnati to help.

D.C. and Panama City

(This group created their own introduction system which led to jokes about their not following directions. It was a fun and light moment.)

Panama City: One person is representing her own interest as a parent and her organization, working with youth to understand, using a participatory action research model. Another member of the team is a high school teacher with interest in communication – reading, writing, consulting, community organizer. Worked for one year on a community organizing project which requires patience and listening.

D.C.: Being the parent of a two-year old child is motivating. Applying legal background and political interest as Director of DC Voice. Another participant is an advocate responsible for research, learning for the Public Education Network. As the oldest of seven children, she said she has never had patience and doesn’t believe in democracy…(laughter!)

This form of introduction got people up out of their chair after lunch, the hardest time to keep people engaged especially after a wonderful pasta lunch! It also surfaced the knowledge and expertise in the room which will give the facilitators the opportunity to get out of the way and let the wisdom of the group emerge.

New Orleans and Bridgeport, CT participants were not in this session of our meeting.

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[This was posted from the Kettering Foundation meeting on September 20-21, 2007 with 12 sites working on the project, “Too Many Children Left Behind”. For more information about the project visit the Project Home Page.]

We are just launching into two days of meeting at the Kettering Foundation Achievement Gaps. Twelve communities – six representing National Issues Forums strongholds, and six representing Local Education Fund (LEF) sites. LEFs are community-based groups that support schools – advocacy, information, convene citizens, workshops for parents – but are not part school system.

So why are we gathered together and why are we talking about how to engage the public in a conversation about the Achievement Gap? Here’s Carolyn Farrow-Garland’s explanation:

Even after years of research and burgeoning bookcases of reports from researchers, but scant involvement from people in the community. And yet, there is evidence that this kind of involvement is important. Carolyn told a thought-provoking story about a woman in a county where no single African-American child had passed the test. She convened these children in order to better understand why. When she talked with these children, she was surprised to learn that they had never heard of the achievement gap. They didn’t know that they had not passed the test. They said that, if they had known that they were expected to be doing better.

In Kettering’s research to frame this issue, Charles Houser conducted focus groups with hundreds of people engaged. During those focus groups, only one person really understood and was able to talk about the achievement gap. This is alarming given the size of this challenge and the dire consequences of not addressing this issue – to our economy, to the quality of life for those who are falling behind.

The research agenda for this group of people is to answer these questions:

  • When communities have a dialogue about this issue, how do they rename it?
  • How do they use this as a basis for addressing this problem?
  • Once they have renamed it, what are they willing to do about it?

Participants are now in community pairs (LEF with NIF) introducing themselves and responding to these questions. Now off to hear the intro…

  • What expertise do you share?
  • What might you be able to learn from each other?

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Today Amy Averett (Austin Voices) and I conducted our first workshop for the Achievement Gap forums at the Round Rock High School. We had fifteen people – about half students. Yeah! I can’t believe how much material we covered in five hours, AND they got a chance to practice. In fact, the role playing received the highest marks on the evaluation. I think the reason we managed to cover so much territory is that we modeled parts of the dialog, stopped for a debrief and then broke them into small groups of five where they continued the dialogs themselves taking turns practicing moderating and recording. Of course we worked them through lunch, too!
Some of the insights that the participants shared:

  • It’s hard to stay neutral especially on a topic that you care about so much.
  • A school administrator acknowledged that it will be easy for him to get sucked into being the expert when questions come up, but he was committed to staying out of the expert role.
  • Participating in the forum highlighted just how complex the issue is.
  • When one recent high school graduate talked about how hard school had been for him and how he almost dropped out, the group realized that it is important not to make assumptions about who is in the room based on what they look like.
  • It’s all well and good to be part of the 10%, but what about the other 90%? Who’s looking out for them?

But three stories that I will take from today’s training that impacted me.

A mother described how difficult it was for her daughter get into college because she wasn’t in the top 10% of her class. She had to go out of state to a private (expensive, I’m sure) college.

A young woman who described how she had a deeper appreciation for how complicated the issue is. When I pressed her for a specific example of when she felt her thinking shift, she said that it was when she realized that she was guilty labeling other students and that it was wrong. As an Advanced Placement student, she had looked down on the students in regular classes and made assumptions about why they were not AP material. I was touched by her honest admission.

On a similar note, another young woman said that she wants to use the discussion guide on her campus and invite students from outside of the 10% to participate in an on-campus session. As an AP student, herself, she realized that she didn’t really know anything about the experiences of other students. She plans to reach out beyond her clique.

As I reflect on these stories, I realize that they are all about how divided our schools are. I remember cliques and clubs. I even scorned one club populated by the popular girls until I realized I was being unfair. (I attended their membership drive, was invited to join and had a blast!) Even with the cliques, there was always cross-over. You might only socialize with people in your group, but we were still thrown together with people from other groups on class assignments or school-wide projects. We had to learn to work with people outside of our own tribe. And we did.

I just don’t remember our class being so deeply divided based on academic achievement. Listening to these students talk, it sounds like there are two parallel worlds operating on their campus and the two never cross. When they talked about the students who were not part of their track, it was like the “others” were so far removed that there was no interaction between them.

Perhaps I don’t remember such an academic division because my school didn’t have AP-material students. But I doubt that!  I do remember being aware that my high school boyfriend who went to a private school was getting a much better education with advanced classes. I also know that everyone in his school was college-bound, after all the phrase “college preparatory” was in the name of the school. I also knew that the kids in the rich school district – the line literally was my back fence – were getting a better education.

That was frustrating, but it wasn’t “in your face” every day right on our own campus. We were all pretty much in the same boat. Our education wasn’t bad. But we didn’t have the perks, the materials, the equipment that other students had. That lot was shared across the campus.

Working on this project has exposed me to so many stories of students on our campuses living in a divided world and I wonder about the impact on these young people. I wonder what messages they are receiving and how that will affect their future.

But I am also thrilled by the students who made a pledge today to stop labeling and to reach out to other students and try to understand their high school experience. Ah, it’s a good start and I wish them well.

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[cross-posted from the personal blog of Taylor Willingham]

I’ve been in a writer’s funk for over two weeks now, which is causing great headaches since I’m responsible for rewriting the Achievement Gap discussion guide here in Central Texas. I’m basing the framework on the National Issues Forums guide, but incorporating Texas data from E3 Alliance. I’m using Study Circles Resource Center guides as the stylistic model. Nance Bell did the hard work of wading through the data and put language around it for me and Rick Olmos helped outline the big chunks so it should be easy to do, right?

Read more… 

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