The idea of “closing the gap” conjures up vivid memories in my life.  One of my favorite winter break positions while I attended Indiana University was that of a “seasonal employee” at the retail store, THE GAP, in Bloomington, Indiana.  For those of you that have worked retail over the holidays, you know it can be an arduous time- physically and psychologically.  Sure, there was extra holiday spending money and the deep discount on much needed spring attire, but…make no mistake…it taxed the body and the soul.  We, as employees, counted down the minutes until closing, celebrated the ushering out of the last customer, and rejoiced in bringing down the chain-clad mall door.  We felt relief coupled with excitement because we knew that when the last penny had been counted (as long as we were within $10.00 of what the register stated) we had closed the GAP, and University nightlife awaited us.

 Almost twenty years later, the term “closing the gap” takes on a far different meaning in my life, but I have learned to attack this closure with far more fervor.  Now, I spend my days developing academic/curriculum frameworks in the urban Indianapolis school setting.  The “gap” in achievement that separates economically disadvantaged students from less disadvantaged students has been the focus of research for almost forty years. While the achievement gap narrowed considerably through the 1980’s, particularly between blacks and whites, progress since then has been marginal.  Below-par achievement of minority students remains one of the most pressing problems in education.

Today (2010 data), the average black student currently achieves at about the same level as the average white student in the lowest quartile of white achievement. Black students are much more likely than white students to fall behind in school, and much less likely to graduate from high school, acquire a college or advanced degree, or earn a middle-class living.

So how, as we all aspire to be socially responsible and culturally sensitive members of this academic culture, work together to close this achievement gap?  Research suggests that there are a number of strategies that schools should be implementing in their school-wide community plan.  However, the strategy that most research proposes as the foundation for all of the remaining initiatives is the school’s ability to develop the “school-home relationship.”  What are we as members of our school doing to build a bridge between the school and home?  Here are some steps to consider:

(1)    Time should be reserved to educate families, along with their children, on the school’s discipline and academic frameworks.  Parents should know the “why” regarding what we do at school.

(2)    A culture of community must be created.  Schools need to consistently send the message to families that we are here to nurture, support, and facilitate their children’s social and academic growth.  This is why we chose this profession, and also why we chose this community to serve.

(3)    The positive as well as the negative should be communicated whenever possible.  When students are doing well, on any level, we should do our best to communicate that to the families.  When discussing a student’s area of refinement, we should still take time to celebrate the student’s successes.

(4)    Listen.  Listen to family concerns…empathize…consider how both parties can work together to do what is best for the child.  People are far more likely to work with us when they feel as if they’ve been heard.

In closing, I have many fond memories of my undergraduate years and my seasonal servitude to THE GAP.  Yet, I am infinitely happier today serving our students and parents.  I also know that from an employee’s perspective, as we moved closer to closing THE GAP, there was an air of excitement that was palpable.  That feeling, however, in no way compares to being a part of “closing the achievement gap” in our local schools.  I am proud to be part of a school with teachers and administration that feel the same, and who are working so diligently to see this goal become reality.

Race and Schools: The Need for Action, by Gary Orfield, Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles, University of California–Los Angeles, is a Research Brief from the NEA Research Visiting Scholars Series, Spring 2008, vol. 1b.
Lake, R. and Hill, P. 2005, November. Hopes, Fears & Reality. A Balanced Look At American Charter Schools in 2005, p.2. Seattle: National Charter School Research Project, Center on Reinventing Public Education.
Smith, N. 2006. “National State of the Movement.” Presentation at the 2006 National Charter Schools Conference, held in conjunction with the 13th annual California Charter Schools Association Conference,
Feb. 28–March 3 in Sacramento, California.

Scott Frye
Indianapolis, IN

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