November 11, 2001
*The performance gap between white and black school children appears to be evident in all subjects.
*The performance gap is being closed in some communities.
*Closing the gap will require both social and educational commitment.
In communities where the racial achievement gap has been closed, generally several things have been done: creating challenging curriculum; ensuring teachers are well-qualified; reducing class sizes (especially in the early grades); expanding the quality of pre-school offerings; and behaving in ways that reflect a belief that all students can learn.
Pre-school is especially important because research suggests that a great deal of the black-white test score gap can be mitigated by eliminating differences that exist before children enter first grade, which, of course, means dealing more directly with the effects of poverty.
Urban public schools are not helpless in confronting the academic "gap" challenges. Indeed, Dayton Public Schools officials are taking important steps to both close the gap and enhance the performance of all students.
Changes, for example, have occurred to foster a more challenging curriculum. The district added Algebra I for 8th graders at all middle schools and Advanced Placement (AP) courses in math and/or science at each high school.
Students seem to be responding to the academic challenge. In 1999-2000, 96 8th grade students took Algebra I, and in 2000-2001, 134 enrolled in Algebra I. This occurred despite the fact that the district's total enrollment has dropped.
Even with such changes, much remains for the school board, administration, teachers and community to do.
Three important tasks include:
*Ensure that all teachers in subjects such as algebra and biology are properly licensed. It is true that all current teachers in those subjects appear to have some type of credential, but the license they possess may not match their teaching assignment.
Every student in a Dayton classroom has a right to a teacher who both knows the content and who understands how to communicate that content. Teacher shortages nationally in math and science have contributed to this situation, but Dayton and those of us who work with the district must find ways to solve this problem.
*Ensure that enough time is allocated daily in elementary schools for math, science and reading instruction (and in all proficiency test areas). Administrators and teachers have addressed the allocated time problem for reading, but the district needs to ensure that students have at least 50-60 minutes of math and science instruction each day.
The district has committed to aligning curricula with state and national standards. It must now provide adequate instructional time. If there is a constant in the research findings on effective schools, it is that time-on-task matters.
*Create a policy environment that stabilizes school assignments. Student mobility is not a problem unique to Dayton. In some cities, researchers have found that as many as 3 out of 5 students change schools during the academic year. One important step toward reducing mobility would be for the district to get out from under the current desegregation mandate.
Private schools gain some "stability" advantage by the very nature of the student population: Students choose to attend private schools, and their "choice," and the satisfaction with their choice, results in increased stability. Charter schools will likely experience the same advantage.
Those students who remain in Dayton public schools have a right to know not only where they will attend school, but also to have a neighborhood option.
Many good things are happening in Dayton's private, charter and public schools. But the anchor for all schools is the public school system.
is Distinguished Research Professor at the
University of Dayton and is President & Chief Executive Officer
of SchoolMatch®, a Columbus based educational auditing, research, data