09 Oct 2019

Achievement Gap or Belief Gap? Closing the Achievement Gap Initiative

Dr. Adam Clark opened the session with this question: is there an achievement gap or belief gap? Here at STEM4Real, we believe that it starts with our beliefs. We as change agents must look into dismantling archaic systems and beliefs that do not serve our students. Having conversations about the achievement gap takes bravery and mindset shifting. We personally are continuing this work amongst our own team and expanding our own thinking when it comes to educational equity.

Background: The CA Department of Education hosted a Virtual Town Hall meeting with counties all over CA spanning from Merced, Santa Clara, Alameda, Riverside, Tuolumne, Napa and more. STEM4Real had the opportunity to be there right in person as we listened to the State Superintendent of Instruction address educators on the status of the Closing the Achievement Gap Initiative, a first of its kind initiative let by Co-Chairs Ryan Smith, Manufou Liaiga-Anoa’i, Dr. Elisha Smith Arrillaga and Roseann Torres.

Our Question: Dr. Adam Clark, superintendent from Vallejo Unified School district and Adela Madrigal Jones from Sanger Unified School District were the superintendents on call to address questions from the community. We personally asked the following question: “Oftentimes, districts have a pressing focus on mathematics and ELA/Reading. How do you take a stand for subjects and areas that may not get as much funding or attention? For example, science, computer science, arts, and early learning?

The response was an overarching focus on going beyond test scores and to teach “The Whole Child”. These are the foci that came out of the working groups both in Northern and Southern California:

  • Parent/Family Engagement
  • Effective Instruction and Pedagogy
  • Whole Child Centered Education
  • Strengthening the Teacher Pipeline
  • Data/Accountability Systems
  • Raising Awareness

STEM4Real was proud to be part of this critical working group. We have summed up the goals of the Close the Achievement Gap as follows:

  1. Mental Health and the Whole Child: As a teacher, embrace mental health awareness within your instructional sequences. Do a 1-minute meditation, ask students to reflect on the ease or difficulty of an assignment, or simply check in with your students and ask how they are doing. Collaborate with counselors to create teacher-counselor lessons where students see you both as allies.
  2. Teacher Recruitment and Retention: There is a push to recruit teachers of color. Regardless of race, we all should incorporate culturally responsive teaching strategies and this is something that the CDE emphasized during the town hall meeting. This can be as simple as looking for authors, scientists, or mathematicians of color, ethnomathematics or ethnoscience to embrace Eastern, Mayan and African cultures as well.
  3. Family and Community Engagement: Increase your engagement with student families! It will help when it comes to management and student engagement as well. Call each of your students’ parents, regardless of behavior. You set the stage early on. Also, speaking of families, let your students know that all students can apply for free/reduced lunch regardless of immigration status. Many families are afraid to apply and we should make sure that our CA students know that they are welcome and should have the basic right to eat! I also know teachers that bring snacks for students. I know it is a yet another tough burden for teachers; yet a solution that one teacher found to work well

One of our favorite moments was when Chief Deputy Superintendent Lupita Cortez Alcalá said that we are finally in a place in education where we get to look at English Language Learners as having an asset of a second language versus a deficit not not speaking English. As a person of color from an immigrant household, I was not taught my language as the primary focus was for me to “assimilate”. Shifting our mindset around language can promote language and culture development amongst our immigrant families and redefining the true meaning of American Culture rooted in diversity.

Closing the Achievement Gap is shrouded with doubt all over the state. However, the movement to open discussions and collaboration among educators truly took courage and is an indication that California is headed in the right direction to create education for ALL our students. We’re not there yet and our team is grappling with the results and coming up with strategies on how we can help support California with closing the achievement gap once and for all.

Resources:

Creating Powerful Classrooms: https://truframework.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Introduction-to-TRU-2018-version.pdf

Parent and Family Engagement: https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/publications/critical-practices-for-antibias-education/family-and-community-engagement

Retaining Teachers of Color: https://teachplus.org/news-events/press-release/if-you-listen-we-will-stay-say-teachers-color

Teaching the Whole Child: https://www.edutopia.org/article/embracing-whole-child

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