The Achievement Gap – or Opportunity Gap, for those striving to be more politically correct – is the most widely discussed issue when considering urban education. Simply put, it posits (correctly) that urban, minority youth score lower on tests than their suburban, white peers. Due to the Gap, urban educators have been tasked with improving student achievement and burdened by countless tests. As a first-year teacher in a New York City charter school, I have felt the impact directly.
The initial reaction to the Achievement Gap was a scientifically sound one: test the kids so we can find out which teachers and schools are doing good work and replicate them, then grade schools on their success. Schools are graded on test scores, college readiness, safety, and other topics and given anywhere from an A to an F. Recently, three NYC Mayoral candidates – Bill Thompson, Christine Quinn, and Bill de Blasio – have spoken out against this grading system.
While in my opinion, these three hopefuls are on the right track, they’re missing the larger point. Many low-performing schools and charter schools, wary of school shutdowns, have moved away from creative, project-based, and technologically savvy instruction and towards rote memorization for the Regents exams. This results in boring classes and a new gap in urban students, a Motivation Gap. I have seen this at my school and (sadly) in my own classroom as well, as test scores have taken precedence over real skills and student learning.
The change needed is a simple one: back off. Rather than judge schools all too frequently and rigidly, empower them to be creative. The education system is broken, and rather than using a Scantron and bubble sheet to solve the problem, we should be innovating and enabling our kids who struggle the most to get the most creative and meaningful education.