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City Club Youth Forum on The Education Achievement Gap

On Monday, October 24th, we attended a City Club Youth Forum regarding the "education achievement gap" whose format was a discussion featuring panelists Mr. George Gordon, Program Director, Closing the Achievement Gap, Cleveland Metropolitan School District; Dr. Gregory C. Hutchins, Jr., Ed.D., Superintendent of the Shaker Heights School District; and Dr. Cathy Whitehouse, Ph.D., Principal of the img_5612 Intergenerational Schools K-8.

The program was introduced by Miss Isha Lele, a junior at Hathaway Brown School in Shaker Heights. In the course of her introduction, she said, "whether determined by ace, gender, and/or socioeconomic status, various gaps remain in providing quality, accessible education. The Glossary of Education Reform defines the achievement gap as; any significant and persistent disparity in academic performance or educational attainment between different groups of students, such as white students and minorities, for example students from higher-income and lower income households."

Ms. Lele noted that educational research has shown that some of the causes for this concern poverty, income equality, and lower socioeconomic status; minority status giving rise to racism, prejudice, stereotyping, ethnic bias, and institutionalized predispositions; lower-quality schools, ineffective teaching, student overcrowding, etc.; and flawed testing designs "that may inadvertently skew scores for certain groups of students over others, especially prevalent in different common core standards."img_5614

The discussion was moderated by Youth Forum Council Member, Mr. Benjamin Schuster, a senior at Cleveland Heights Heights High School who queried the panel with questions regarding the incongruity of test scores vs. actual achievement; the adverse effects of the test scores on people of color; the income-educational gap; and how to address these inadequacies and bring forth change. All three of the panelists were in remarkable agreement on these issues.

Mr. Golden believed that there was an overemphasis on test scores instead of more awareness on social and culturally learning and relationship building. Unfortunately the resources that should be directed towards these things are instead going to prepare students for an overrated test. Mr. Gordon went on to say that in terms of the income-educational gap, the higher a family's income the more opportunities are expanded there is a brighter vision for a child's future. He talked about a forum that he recently attended in Washington, D.C. that delved into such matters as poverty combined with trauma. As far as possible improvements to the system, he mentioned one that we need to look at providing a good middle school environment for a child because what often happens now is that children are abruptly switched for K-8 to high school and the transition is a tough one. He also wanted to see more extracurricular activities such as music and art. He was dismayed that there were not too many school bands in his district.

Dr. Hutchins said that the goal of his district was to produce service-oriented, selfless adults who are caring people who were not afraid to speak up if they see something that they believe is not right. He felt strongly that testing has a negative effect on people of color because many of the young people in question come from poverty areas and bad test results send the message that they are not expected to do well because they are ethnic and poor. Plus there are a lot of hidden biases in testing; many times economically disadvantaged students are confronted with situations that they are not familiar with but students from families with higher incomes are. As to what can be done, Dr. Hutchins favored access to more experiences and better social services such as those that provide health care. Above all, he wanted to see our society's mindset changed. For instance, an intentional effort to aid a certain group of people is often frowned upon because it is believed that it will draw resources away from others. Accordingly, citizens need to be made aware of the fact that by helping that particular group all will be helped in the long term.

Dr. Whitehouse wants to see more "lifelong learners" and "spirited citizens" who, when they see a problem, do not complain but try to solve the problem. Along these lines, she acknowledged that some kind of assessment is necessary but so much testing is not accomplishing this and the results can be quite punitive. She believed testing only measures how a student is functioning at the time that he/she took the test and does not reflect long term academic achievement. As far as testing involving electronics/computers as  some students are definitely more adept at such equipment than others. In terms of income inequality, Dr. Whitehouse said that poverty creates so many stresses that she is surprised that some students even make it to school each day and academic achievement is severely hampered; for example, young people from low income areas are not exposed to as many words as people from well-to-do areas. Therefore, many of the solutions involve equitable funding for education programs and she was pleased that Cleveland is investing in early childhood education. As for the Intergenerational Schools K-8, Dr. Whitehouse let us know that they rejected age-based grade levels because young people often needed more time than these allot.

During the Q and A, we asked about the progress of foreign born/immigrant students. Dr. Hutchins said that Shaker Heights has a fine English Language Learners (ELL) program that helps them adjust to their new culture as well as teaching them English. The overall goal is to give these students access to all of the things that students born in the United States have. There is only a small number of ELL students in Shaker Heights and fortunately most of them went to fine schools in their native lands so they usually excel academically after they learn English. Dr. Whitehouse concurred that there were not too many ELL students in the Intergenerational Schools but the staff tries to incorporate their cultures into the multicultural learning experience.

During lunch, we shared a table with our friends Mr. Murat Gurer and Mr. Bill McLaughlin as well as Ms. Holly J. Harris Bane, President of the Northeast Ohio Council on Higher Education, and Ms. Susan Ertle, Executive Director of Friends of Breakthrough Schools, both of whom know Ms. Margaret W. Wong quite well because she has consistently supported their organizations.

Another person that we were pleased to see there was Mr. Jonathan G. Kuehnle, Principal of Shaker Heights High School, who brought fifteen student there with him. We were very heartened when Mr. Kuehnle told us that these students really wanted to come to this luncheon because they were very concerned about this issue and several of them asked very pertinent questions during the Q and A about bridging the achievement gap.

By:

Michael Patterson 

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC

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