“Moving from Research to Practice to Close the Achievement Gap” by Drs. Boykin and Noguera
The opening session that I attended was like being shot out of a cannon. Dr. Boykin framed the session around the idea that “school improvement often rests upon good intentions rather than evidence.” An information dense session flowed from there. Dr. Noguera went on to describe why the achievement gap persists: expectations – pre-NCLB we never expected all children to achieve, beliefs – a persistent belief that intelligence is innate rather than a thing to be cultivated, and a lack of skills and strategies to change expectations and beliefs. The system is self propagating and focused in the wrong way. Change the focus and the system can work to improve schools.
“ We disproportionately punish the students with the greatest needs, mostly because we do not meet their needs through exclusion” – Dr. Noguera
Dr. Noguera related stories about children who had disciplinary issues due to problems at home. What did the schools do? Suspend them and send them back in to fire. Children who struggle academically are later classified and sequestered in special education programs where they fall further behind. In his observations, many of the students suffered from ABT (Ain’t Been Taught), not real handicaps. English language learners are often perceived as deficient intellectually rather than simply dealing with the language barrier. Instead, schools should be building the capacity of these students to learn. They should be discipling in ways to teach students to do the right thing regardless of whether adults are present rather than simply removing them from the learning environment.
He referred to these issues as the normalization of failure. A school is suffering from this if:
- The faculty is accustomed to the predictability of outcomes for different groups of students
- The school points fingers at students, teachers, community for student failure
- Believe that culture and biology dictate intelligence rather than opportunity and resources
- No Sense of Urgency
This normalization of failure leads to a progression of disenfranchisement. It begins in the lower grades with task disengagement, progresses to subject disengagement (I’m not good at math), then school disengagement. Ultimately, the progression ends with structural disenfranchisement where the individual is no longer capable of working within the structure of society as a whole. It is the school to prison pipeline.
To overcome these, schools need to focus on peer support for educators and results oriented practices for students rather than compliance and punitive measures. Positive interactions and relationships are lacking for these students, referred to in the presentation as transactional solutions. Transactional solutions focus on the following three areas:
- Self-efficacy – The confidence to do a task or participate in an activity
- Self-regulation – The ability to plan, monitor, and self-assess
- Belief Change – a shift from the belief that intelligence is innate and fixed to the belief that intelligence is incremental and malleable.
Drs. Boykin and Noguera explained that the three points above are best addressed through a constructivist learning environment that focuses on assets (what a student brings to the table and building from there) rather than a didactic approach focused on deficit reduction. Many failing schools are getting this wrong however. In a study by Deborah Stipek in 2004, the strongest predictor of whether a school engages in didactic methods over constructivist is the percentage of African American students present. These students are being given the opposite of what they need and failing because of it.
“There is a disconnect between academic achievement and child development” – Dr. Boykin
Dr. Noguera went on to discuss the paradigm shift that needs to happen in order for our schools to become places where children thrive. The old paradigm sees intelligence as innate, schools as places to sort and measure children, moves resources to the highest performing students, and uses discipline to weed out bad students. The new paradigm sees intelligence as tied to opportunity and resources, schools as places to draw out and cultivate talent, allocates resources equitably, and uses discipline to correct undesirable behavior. To get to this new paradigm, the conditions must be correct, including:
- Diagnostic assessment
- Early intervention
- Quality control of resources (human, structural, strategic)
- On-site and ongoing professional development
- Supportive relationships between students and faculty
- A faculty culture of sharing
- An attitude of it’s “cool to be be smart”
- Shared leadership
- Partnerships with parents and community
The session was one of the most thought provoking I have ever attended and an indictment of the system as whole. They presenters held us all responsible but also gave us the direction in which we need to move. I will be chewing on this for months.