New York

Educators, policy makers: Schools alone not enough to close achievement gap

Policy makers have been taking too narrow a view of education, and one outcome is a persistent achievement gap correlated with socioeconomic status, according to “A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education,” a statement released today by the Economic Policy Institute online and in full-page ads in the New York Times and Washington Post. Taking aim at those who argue that schools must take full responsibility for closing the achievement gap, the statement’s 60-plus signatories, representing a wide range of education ideologies, call for more attention to be paid to learning that takes place outside of the formal school day and to the development of children’s non-academic skills and characteristics.

Motivated by the debate over the upcoming reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind act, EPI, a left-leaning think tank, hopes to widen the policy debate beyond test scores. School improvement efforts — the cornerstone of NCLB — should be one component of the broader approach, the statement says, but where conventional wisdom says schools alone should be able to close the achievement gap, the report’s authors say real progress will require significant investment in early childhood and pre-school education; health services; and after-school and summer programs.

The notion of schools as full-service institutions is not unique or original, although in an era of test-driven accountability, the idea of schools as a place where children are cared for, not just taught, seems to have been lost. What’s unique is the statement’s repeated reference to evidence; it uses the vocabulary of data-driven, contemporary educators, not the rhetoric of social justice, to advance its position.

Unfortunately, the statement does not address how districts or states might pay for some of the commonsensical improvements it suggests. With an election looming, the timing may be right to challenge conventional educational thought, but offering only recommendations that require major cash infusions in lean times strikes me as quixotic.

Still, the reputations of the signatories make the statement worth thinking about. The co-chairs of the Broader, Bolder committee, recruited by EPI, are Helen Ladd, a professor at Duke University; Pedro Noguera, of New York University and an active participant in the city’s schools; and Tom Payzant, a former longtime superintendent of the Boston Public Schools who is now at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Other signers are researchers, educators, economists, and politicians.

Notably absent from the list of signatories is Joel Klein. Other urban superintendents, including Arne Duncan of Chicago and Rudy Crew of Miami (also a former NYC chancellor) signed on — why didn’t Klein?  One reason might be his continued insistence that schools and those who work in them should be held fully responsible for failing to educate all children; conceding the impact of poverty complicates many of his reforms. Still, his absence is disheartening because New York, unlike most municipalities, could actually take action on the EPI’s recommendations: Mayoral control would allow Mayor Bloomberg to pressure city agencies to coordinate and integrate their activities and initiatives.

EPI is looking for more signatories — you can add your name to the report online.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.