As a teacher working in a very diverse school district in the US, I am always talking with my colleagues about how we can go about how to close the achievement gap separating low-income students from their more economically advantaged peers.
This is not just because it is the right thing for us to focus on, but also because there is a great deal of pressure on schools to perform well on this particular measure.
Many people, including policymakers, boards of education, homebuyers and even governors will judge teachers by their ability to close a school’s achievement gap.
There are many ways to do this, but there are three things that work particularly well.
Understand the context
Building strong family-school relationships is crucial. These relationships need to be based on a secure knowledge of the issues that your students and their families face. We have done a lot of work at our school to understand the challenges faced by the families of our students.
We have done this by making sure that we make a real effort to communicate with students’ families.
Making time for face-to-face evening meetings so that working parents can be accommodated is essential for developing the teacher-parent relationship. Family-based activities on the weekends and in the evenings allow students, teachers and parents to interact together in socially positive environments.
The information that we have gained about the lives of our students as a result of these initiatives has been invaluable and we have been able to target our support accordingly.
Lack of money and time were both identified as key educational barriers by parents and families. Our school now holds a number of fundraising events to support students who do not have the funds necessary to purchase school supplies or go on school trips.
Focus on effective recruitment and targeted training
It is not enough to expect teachers to seek out the best techniques for closing the gap on their own. Schools need to train teachers and get them to share best practice with each other on attainment for disadvantaged students. Doing this through targeted CPD demonstrates that this is an area that needs to be addressed. It is something that requires its own programme of study; it cannot be added in to the general mix of teaching.
Schools also need to make an effort to recruit and retain teachers of all races and ethnic backgrounds. Schools need to reflect their community.
Freedom to be creative
Schools need a strong, structured curriculum that sets high expectations, but for the gap to be closed, teachers also need to be given the freedom to be creative. If we enable teachers to look at the data and then devise methods to address attainment, there is a double benefit: teachers think about it and are then empowered to do something about it.
Imposing solutions at a national level will mean that schools are unable to adapt to local and specific circumstances.
By allowing teachers to determine which strategies work best with specific populations of students, your school can achieve bespoke solutions. The best assessments are teacher-created, school-specific and iterative.