The achievement gap describes the difference in academic performance between different genders, ethnic and socio-economic groups. The substantial gap between the educational achievements of different ethnic/racial groups (Black, White, Hispanic, Native American, etc) is as old as our nation itself. Our nation’s efforts to address the achievement gap date back to the reconstruction period after the civil war.
Fostering prosperity and economic growth of all citizens has motivated continued federal interest in public education which dates back to the pre-civil war era. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 mandated that in settling the “western territories” (Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan), a section of each township be reserved for “maintenance of public education”. This was the beginning of several federal mandates (e.g., The GI Bill) providing public education for all Americans. In the 1950’s two key events fueled renewed federal interest in public education. The first is civil rights and the second, the successful 1957 launch of Sputnik by the USSR. Scientists and educators were brought together to develop rigorous curricula and harness the new medium of television to stimulate science teaching. This model for improving education continues to this day.
Fifty four years after Sputnik only a third of the nation’s fourth graders, 30 percent of eight graders and 21 percent of 12th graders are performing at or above the proficient level in science, says the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as The Nation’s Report Card. 82 percent of schools are failing to meet literacy and math standards mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act says Secretary Duncan.
As a nation, we are getting these results inspite of the many programs and resources; many of them freely available to help improve reading, science and mathematics achievement of our youth. Decades of research shows that student achievement strongly correlates with the level of engagement in learning. Our students are falling behind, particularly in science and math because we are not engaging them in the classroom.
Closing the Achievement Gap in science, math and literacy starts with all of us taking more responsibility for making sure our classrooms provide learning environments that support and foster teacher and student achievement.
The 1996 National Science Education Standards (NSES), give a clear explanation of how to increase student achievement in science with hands-on & minds-on approaches to teaching & learning. “When students learn by doing hands-on activities, science is taught only as a process. For learning to occur, students must have “minds-on” experiences where students use skills such as observing, inferring and experimenting to help them solve complex problems ..” says the NSES.
How do we incorporate hands-on & minds-on learning experiences to increase student and teacher achievement? You can read the many articles on the subject or get a head start by attending a presentation by Akpalu (CEO & Founder, WHY SCIENCE) titled “Increasing Achievement with Hands-on & Minds-on Learning Experiences” scheduled for April 2, 2011 at Metropolitan Business Academy. Details TBA.
Join the conversation on “Closing the Achievement Gap in Connecticut: Three Events to Inspire Action” at Southern CT State University. Visit http://www.southernct.edu/achievementgap/ for more information.
Links to Resources
1. Why Science “Closing the Achievement Gap” Speaker Series Calendar