Heavy Hitters Debate School Achievement Gap

Tuesday, October 15, 2013 - 11:27 AM

Columbus High School Campus (Beth Fertig)
High school graduation rates have risen dramatically across the board in New York City yet, close observers of the school system will tell you, some things have not changed: an achievement gap persists among racial and ethnic groups, and between affluent and low income students. 

What immediate steps should the next administration take to narrow the achievement gap in New York City? What long term strategies should it pursue?

Five education professors and practitioners -- Michael Casserly, Pedro Noguera, Charles Payne, Michael Petrilli and David Tipson -- jumped into the fray on these two questions in an online forum sponsored by the Education Funders Research Initiative at Philanthropy New York. They used as a reference point the recent study “The Experience of One New York City High School Cohort: Opportunities, Successes, and Challenges” by Douglas Ready and colleagues at Teachers College-Columbia University.

Save the Date: SchoolBook will be moderating a live twitter chat on narrowing the achievement gap in New York City on Oct. 25 from 12-1pm.  It's the first in a series of #WhatWorks live chats.  Submit your questions by tweeting @EDFundersRI with the #whatworks hashtag or email

According to Pedro Noguera, professor of education at New York University, the study confirmed something academics have known for a while: gaps in achievement emerge early and often widen over time.  He pointed to the success some schools, including charter school networks, have had in addressing it.

Young Women's Leadership Schools and the Academy for Language and Technology were two examples he cited where special populations received close instruction and the schools graduated over 90 percent of their students. He said more school leaders should learn from each other about what's actually working.

"It will be important for the next administration to closely examine the successes and failures among New York's schools before initiating a new series of reforms," Noguera wrote.

Charles Payne said the environment for improvement is key. He advocated strong school leadership and investment in teacher development and retention.

David Tipson, director of New York Appleseed, advocated supports for parents in order to make the school choice system truly equitable.

"Parent resource centers are multi-lingual, one-stop shops that provide unbiased guidance and one-on-one counseling on how to negotiate mechanisms of student assignment. They help to level the playing field by allowing all parents to access strategic advice otherwise available only to the most connected and affluent parents," Tipson wrote. "Parent resource centers are essential components of choice systems that are serious about equity."

Michael Petrilli said the next mayor should embrace what's known as the Core Knowledge curriculum, developed by theorist E.D. Hirsch, so that kids in the early years find meaning in what they are reading, that it connects to the world around them. The current pilot project in 10 New York City schools is bearing fruit, he said.

"While that may seem obvious, a focus on building students’ actual nuts-and-bolts, foundational knowledge, especially in the early grades, would be nothing short of revolutionary," Petrilli wrote.

And Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, advised the next mayor to resist the political temptation to toss out changes implemented during Mayor Michael Bloomberg's three-term tenure. Build on the momentum, he said, and focus on the areas still lacking, such as parent engagement and early childhood education.

"The new mayor could move immediately to increase the number of children in developmental early childhood programs and improve the quality of those offerings," he said.

Save the Date: SchoolBook will be moderating a live twitter chat on narrowing the achievement gap in New York City on Oct. 25 from 12-1pm.  It's the first in a series of #WhatWorks live chats.  Submit your questions by tweeting @EDFundersRI with the #whatworks hashtag or email


Patricia Willens


Comments [1]

Cap Lee from Milwaukee, WI Barranquilla Colombia

High school graduation is determined by so many different things, especially artificial letter grades, that anyone can graduate at any time. Just give them the better phony grades.

The learning gap is likewise artificial as it is determined by artificial tests and grades. The first step in determining the gap is to utilize Howard Gardners theory on multiple intelligences to determine who has more abilities. And then when the assessments are taken, use demonsttrations of learning. The test utilizes a completely different mindset than does real learning.

Once the real gap is determined, we then can find ways to improve the needed skills. But beware, the last might just become first when education is made real. But we will find ways to bring up the real skills of those poor white kids who can take a test but can't do anything.

The next step is to design a system that takes kids from where they are with failure is part of a learning process, not one that pushes kids out of school.

Oct. 15 2013 06:51 PM

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