Without caring teachers, accommodating students from all backgrounds, or the willingness to address Out-of-School Factors (OSFs), disparities in educational attainment are likely to remain. It may often seem that trusting and caring relationships are meant for the home, while a professional relationship is maintained in the classroom. However, Nel Noddings, as mentioned by Nieto and Bode, discovered that caring can be an even larger attribution to a student’s academic achievement than many structural conditions within the school (2012). Students in a study conducted by Patty Bode were consistent in their belief that empathy for students was the most important characteristic for a teacher to possess (p. 257). For many students, having a teacher who shows a “kind disposition” and show interest in the students lives in and out of the classroom, can give the student a sense of belonging, and lessen the pattern of school resistance that many students fall into (Nieto & Bode, p. 256).
The cultural differences that occur in the school setting are often threatening to the student, who my experience failure as a result of different values, languages, and expectations. It may feel that creating policies and rules to accommodate all cultures is impossible, and maybe it is. Nieto and Bode discuss opposing beliefs in school versus the home and how one environment may value competition while another values cooperation. For some students, their cultures may align well throughout both environments, and their success will be evident. However, for the student who experiences the culture clash, this may lead to a compromise of their values or academic failure.
The Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), as discussed by both Dr. Fryer in his video and in Affirming Diversity, is a prime example of how a community organization is able to minimize much of the negative effects of OSFs in an effort to increase academic achievement. As Maslow’s hierarchy of needs claims, a child is likely to be insufficient in areas of academia or social skills if basic food, health, and shelter needs are unable to be met. The HCZ, according to Fryer, addresses that same theory by providing health and dental services, as well as fruits and vegetables (2011). In addition to meeting basic needs, the HCZ also seeks to improve unfavorable neighborhood characteristics in this specific urban community. The success that the HCZ has had with improving the academic performance of its students further reinforces the idea stated by Nieto and Bode that “educational reform efforts that do not take into account the social and economic conditions outside schools can only be partially successful” (p. 266).
As for answering the question of whether these gaps occur due to opportunity, academic achievement, or economic reasons, I feel its impossible to blame sole responsilibty on one isolated area. Flores’ study focuses a lot on opportunity and the unequal offerings of classes given to White students versus minority students. Latinos and African Americas are less likely to be placed in college preparation or advanced courses (Flores, 2007). Being provided “optimal opportunities to learn mathematics free from bias” and learn “challenging material from quality teachers who will also make connections to each student’s background, culture, and needs are all aspects of what Flores states is the “opportunity to learn.”
The achievement gap is similar in that it often is the result of stereotypes. Low expectations are a constant threat to minority students, as well as low placement, all leading to the data which puts minority students in lower standardized testing score brackets (Ladson-Billings, 2006). Unfortunately, a lot of similarities coincide with economic disparities and the amount of money spent per pupil within a school district. Considering the fact that school funding is based on property taxes, it is inevitable that high poverty areas will receive less funding. This then comes full circle with the opportunity gap, as poor students are unable to have access to things such as technology, science materials, and programming to which wealthier school districts are accustomed. Through programs such as the HCZ and further research on ways to lessen the gap, it is the hope that students will begin to receive equitable opportunity.
Flores, A. (2007). Examining disparities in mathematics education: Achievement gap or opportunity gap? The High School Journal, 91 (1), 29-42.
Fryer, R. (2011). Are High Quality Schools Enough to Close the Achievement Gap? Retrieved from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TgzLSMY_nxI&feature=youtu.be.
Ladson-Billings, G. (2006). From the Achievement Gap to the Education Debt: Understanding Achievement in U.S. Schools. American Educational Research Association, 35 (7), 3-12.
Nieto, S., & Bode, P. (2012). Affirming Diversity. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.