Panel Discusses Education Gap

Achievement Gap Panel
Anna M Frappaolo

Panelists discuss achievement-gap issues that persist in today’s education system. The event, held yesterday, was sponsored by Harvard Students for Education Reform and Teach for America.

A group of panelists agreed that a unified vision and a tireless approach would be needed to close the nationwide “achievement gap”—a disparity between the test scores of underrepresented minority students and their white and Asian counterparts—at a discussion last night in Emerson Hall.

The panel, hosted by the Harvard Students for Education Reform and Teach for America, featured a range of professionals in the field of education, including Ronald F. Ferguson, the director of Harvard’s Achievement Gap Initiative.

According to Ferguson, scholarship on the achievement gap first rose to prominence in the 1990s. While there has been some progress at the elementary school level over the past two decades, the achievement gap in high schools has failed to improve, he said.

Ferguson also noted that the gap develops rapidly as young minority students approach kindergarten.

Though there is “not much of a gap” around the first birthday, a divergence in test scores is already apparent by age three, he said.

Ferguson added that the achievement disparity is not necessarily consistent as students age, implying that cultural influences play a major role in student achievement.

“These differences are not written in stone,” he concluded.

Panelist Caroll Blake, executive director for the Achievement Gap Department of Boston Public Schools, said that poor performance is especially evident among African American and Latino males.

Programs aimed at bridging the gap should target these demographics in a manner that is “intentional,” she said.

While the panelists agreed that different approaches could be effective in addressing the disparity, there was a consensus that planning, clarity and relentlessness in structuring the reform system are all essential.

“There is not one right way of doing it; it just has to be coherent,” Ferguson said.

“Teaching ... is not a nine-to-five job. It has to be something that you are committed to,” Blake added.

After the panel concluded, Ferguson emphasized that closing the achievement gap should be considered a national effort.

“No matter what your career track is, there are ways that you can teach and inspire,” he said.

Francheska Dominique ’11, who will with TFA next year, said that she hopes to see stronger efforts across campus to address racial disparities in education.

Noting that teaching is not the only way to get involved, she added, “We [also] need people reading the data and telling us what to do.”

—Staff writer Rediet T. Abebe can be reached at rtesfaye@college.harvard.edu.

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