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Second Annual Conference on the Achievement Gap at Harvard

Making a significant contribution to advancing the cause of educational equity, the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University hosted its second annual conference, "Defining the Achievement Gap Challenge," on June 19 and 20, 2006.

Making a significant contribution to advancing the cause of educational equity, the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University hosted its second annual conference, "Defining the Achievement Gap Challenge," on June 19 and 20, 2006. The conference consisted of two intensive days of "exploring what we know and still need to learn from research in order to dramatically narrow the nation's achievement gaps between racial and ethnic groups, even as we raise achievement for all student groups nationwide." Presentations on the first day, for an audience of advocates, practitioners, policy makers, funders, and researchers, new data on racial and ethnic gaps, studies of youth cultures and home intellectual climates, and research on priorities for closing achievement and opportunity gaps for schools and school systems. They included important new evidence showing no racial group differences in mental ability at age one, though gaps develop by the time children enter school; new research indicating that racial and IQ gaps are narrowing but remain large even among children of middle class, college educated parents; compelling evidence debunking the notion that many high poverty, high minority schools routinely sustain high achievement, and graphic depictions of the wide disparities in school spending from state to state.

Other presentations included a new study on "acting white" that suggests that black students are no less likely than white students to aspire to good grades; research on "home intellectual climates" showing large racial and ethic disparities; and studies shedding light on the educational needs of immigrant youth. Research on strategic priorities for closing achievement gaps discussed teacher quality disparities and called for more informed and more selective retention to improve teacher quality. Findings from a study of principals' ability to identify teacher effectiveness showed that principals were able to discriminate only the very best and very worst teachers but tell little about the quality of teachers in between. Another study showed the strong correlation between on-time completion of the ninth grade and high school graduation, urging special attention this transitional year.

On the second day, researchers including economists, sociologists, psychologists, education specialists, and political scientists shared new data on test score gaps and  discussed strategies with potential for closing them including ensuring adequate instructional time, improving teacher and instructional quality, providing economically integrated schools, the careful use of homogeneous instructional groupings, and improving parenting practices. Under the topic of identity, culture, and achievement, participants tackled the persistent effects of racism and explored when it may be helpful and when harmful to put educational challenges in racial terms. A number of presentations examined the challenges of implementing reforms in the lowest performing, most dysfunctional schools and spoke to the extensive resources and intensive efforts they require, as well as to need for better research on effective implementation practices. The discussions were rounded out by presentations centering on practices to maximize learning at home and outside of schools through improved parenting practices, organized out-of-school time programs, and an appreciation of the learning opportunities provided in families and by communities.

Both days of the conference included provocative discussions on the risks of "racializing" educational inequity and the need to balance research and advocacy for structural and political change in the many areas of policy that affect children with an approach more focused on changes that can be made within communities of color. In the discussion about future directions at the end of the two days, participants resolved to join forces in order to move more effectively and efficiently toward collective goals. Leaders from the Achievement Gap Initiative, the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, and the Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity and Diversity at the University of California, Berkeley, among others, agreed to coordinate their efforts to raise achievement levels, close achievement gaps, and ensure educational equity for all children.

Published Friday, Jul. 7, 2006

Second Annual Conference on the Achievement Gap at Harvard

Making a significant contribution to advancing the cause of educational equity, the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University hosted its second annual conference, "Defining the Achievement Gap Challenge," on June 19 and 20, 2006. The conference consisted of two intensive days of "exploring what we know and still need to learn from research in order to dramatically narrow the nation's achievement gaps between racial and ethnic groups, even as we raise achievement for all student groups nationwide." Presentations on the first day, for an audience of advocates, practitioners, policy makers, funders, and researchers, new data on racial and ethnic gaps, studies of youth cultures and home intellectual climates, and research on priorities for closing achievement and opportunity gaps for schools and school systems. They included important new evidence showing no racial group differences in mental ability at age one, though gaps develop by the time children enter school; new research indicating that racial and IQ gaps are narrowing but remain large even among children of middle class, college educated parents; compelling evidence debunking the notion that many high poverty, high minority schools routinely sustain high achievement, and graphic depictions of the wide disparities in school spending from state to state.

Other presentations included a new study on "acting white" that suggests that black students are no less likely than white students to aspire to good grades; research on "home intellectual climates" showing large racial and ethic disparities; and studies shedding light on the educational needs of immigrant youth. Research on strategic priorities for closing achievement gaps discussed teacher quality disparities and called for more informed and more selective retention to improve teacher quality. Findings from a study of principals' ability to identify teacher effectiveness showed that principals were able to discriminate only the very best and very worst teachers but tell little about the quality of teachers in between. Another study showed the strong correlation between on-time completion of the ninth grade and high school graduation, urging special attention this transitional year.

On the second day, researchers including economists, sociologists, psychologists, education specialists, and political scientists shared new data on test score gaps and  discussed strategies with potential for closing them including ensuring adequate instructional time, improving teacher and instructional quality, providing economically integrated schools, the careful use of homogeneous instructional groupings, and improving parenting practices. Under the topic of identity, culture, and achievement, participants tackled the persistent effects of racism and explored when it may be helpful and when harmful to put educational challenges in racial terms. A number of presentations examined the challenges of implementing reforms in the lowest performing, most dysfunctional schools and spoke to the extensive resources and intensive efforts they require, as well as to need for better research on effective implementation practices. The discussions were rounded out by presentations centering on practices to maximize learning at home and outside of schools through improved parenting practices, organized out-of-school time programs, and an appreciation of the learning opportunities provided in families and by communities.

Both days of the conference included provocative discussions on the risks of "racializing" educational inequity and the need to balance research and advocacy for structural and political change in the many areas of policy that affect children with an approach more focused on changes that can be made within communities of color. In the discussion about future directions at the end of the two days, participants resolved to join forces in order to move more effectively and efficiently toward collective goals. Leaders from the Achievement Gap Initiative, the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, and the Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity and Diversity at the University of California, Berkeley, among others, agreed to coordinate their efforts to raise achievement levels, close achievement gaps, and ensure educational equity for all children.

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