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The Achievement Gap

The Achievement Gap

by Dennis Green

That’s how it’s referred to euphemistically by the Alameda School District Trustees and Superintendent, “the achievement gap.” Instead, it’s the failure of the schools, and the teachers, to close that gap for African-American and Hispanic students. While the unemployment rate for Americans in general is around 10%, for African-Americans, it is 15%. And that’s an achievement gap directly traceable back to the schools.

But no one wants to admit that. The new parcel tax initiative in Alameda doesn’t even promise to address that gap, and there is no language in the new “Master Plan” describing or explaining why such a gap exists. Nor why that gap is much greater in the West End schools than in the Gold Coast or the East End or in Harbor Bay. No one admits that the schools, and the teachers, are just plain failing these kids, in real time, in the classroom, and then in their grade books.

The drop-out rate is much higher, and the graduation and success rate much lower for these ethnographic groups than for “White” and “Asian” students, and the conventional explanation is all about culture, that these kids don’t learn English, that their parents don’t believe in education as a way out of the ghetto, that they are undisciplined and unruly. Anything but admitting any responsibility for maintaining discipline and order, and motivating the students to learn.

It’s definitely time to reform education in America, and the public schools. Or to make “vouchers” available to parents who want to choose instead to enroll their children in private schools. Why should we support a failing system, when Catholic schools graduate 90% of their students, and a charter school in Oakland, “Native American Charter School,” graduates 100%, and they all qualify for admission to quality universities?

Vouchers used to be the call-letters of conservatives, and especially of the Religious Right. No one paid much attention, except the teachers’ unions, which made fun of the notion. Why should private schools be allowed to compete on a level playing field with the public schools? Why should the public schools have any fair competition? Indeed.

But tenure and the seniority/senility system have ruined public schools. They give teachers lifetime job security, regardless of their real performance, and allow the oldest and some of the most sleepy-time, to keep their jobs instead of younger, more fired-up teachers, in the face of the few layoffs that get past the unions.

The achievement gap is horrible in its consequences, and very costly. Public school dropouts constitute a much higher percentage of prison inmates than graduates, are much more vulnerable to STDs and other communicable diseases, more likely to go on welfare and drugs, and the achievement failure of their schools, and their teachers, will haunt them for the rest of their lives.

As a former teacher, I’m angry. And I blame my former colleagues, who refuse to take any responsibility whatsoever for the fact that America spends more per student than any nation on earth, and its students score in the bottom third worldwide. This is an achievement gap that will surely make America a third-rate power, economically and in terms of innovation, unless we reform the public education system NOW!

28 comments to The Achievement Gap

  • tmanno

    Mr. Green is ignorant. Totally blaming the schools for lack of academic achievement by certain students shows that Mr. Green has probably never been in a classroom setting. I often tell my students that teaching is happening, but it is NO guarantee that learning is occurring. If students (and their families) do NOT take responsibility for their own learning, it will NOT occur.

    Is the textbook being read? Are notes taken, both from homework AND in the classroom? Is anyone at home helping the student to study for tests? Is it assured that homework is done?

    Mr. Green, these things have happened in MY home. Both of my daughters received quality educations (in the Alameda school distric, although not ALL teachers performed their jobs excellently); one daughter is about to graduate from a State University, while the other is about to enter a prestigious private college. We don’t make much money, but we have imparted the value of lifelong learning. My wife and I both have Master’s degrees, and it has always been QUITE clear that education is vitally important in life.

    THAT is part of the achievement gap, Mr. Green!

  • So tmanno… for African-American and Hispanic kids that don’t do well in school… are you saying it’s their own fault?

  • tmanno

    By the way, money is NOT a proof of learning! George Bush received one of the most expensive and prestigious educations in the world, and bragged that he was a C- student – and those were due to Ivy League grade inflation!

  • tmanno

    Yes, of course, in part, it’s their RESPONSIBILITY! They are usually in the same classes as their peers – what is the difference that creates these outcomes? Teachers teach to the entire class, not just SOME of it.

    Would you blame firemen for fires that destroy homes – if they try and fail, is it THEIR fault? Is a rise in crime the fault of the police? If a doctor prescribes a health regimen, and the patient does not follow it, is it the doctor’s fault if the patient gets ill?

    Education is not like handing out vitamins or aspirin – there is the need for reciprocity. Great teachers are vital for the FIRST HALF of quality education.

  • So great schools and great test scores aren’t all about how much money the public puts in then?

  • Flex

    I have to admit though there are some bad teachers in Alameda High are waaaayyyyyy past due their lay offs. I have seen a teacher lie to a student and change her own words to save her job. Then she kicked the student out of her class? And tried to reported the student for threatening her?

    It’s a good thing the administration at Alameda High School is more willing to listen to both sides of the story than just listening to one teacher who lied to save herself. I have to agree that the staff at the district must be reviewed and re-evaluated.

  • Monkey Wong

    Alameda High for example is already over crowded with around 2400 students. If Encinal High had to merge with Alameda High the school will be way too crowded and students will be forced in such a crammed environment to learn.

    Mr. Green, you are right but also a ignorant and smelly man, there are no bad students only bad teachers. But who is there to blame? Don’t forget all the teachers had to get their own degrees and training before they can become teachers.

    It is the school’s administration responsibility to see to it that the teacher’s do their job. Shouldn’t the principal and vice principal watch over the teachers performance? At Alameda High School, I have seen a teacher get fired due to his performance in teaching. However I for one appreciated this teacher but honestly his style of teaching was not suited very well among a majority of his students. The principal was on his case and despite this teacher’s approximately 15+ years of teaching? He was fired at the end of June 2010.

    Without a decent amount of money for the school there will be less AP classes and a worser environment for students to learn in.

    Tmanno is right, Great teachers are the first half to a quality education but despite the fact that material taught will be the same, teachers will not be able to answer as many questions to students and the classroom in general will be harder to manage.

  • Tmanno, I hate to tell you this, but I spent 14 years as a classroom teacher, 10 at UC Santa Barbara and Westmont College, 3 at Hayward State and one at UC Berkeley. At Santa Barbara, my reputation in one class I taught, “Bonehead English,” I attracted many African-American and Latino students who could just as well have taken special “sections” that were dumbed-down by Affirmative Action. They chose my class instead because, as many of them put it, “We hear that you will work our butts off, but also give us all the help we need.”

    That’s the real secret of successful teaching. Discipline, hard work, and love. Yes, you have to love your students enough to figure out what each one of them needs to be motivated and inspired to do his or her very best. Too many teachers lack those abilities, are burnt out, or just don’t care. They go into the profession because, without integrity, it can be a very cushy job. Three-four months vacation every year, short work days, often five hours max, and you can give machine-graded tests, which I saw colleagues doing at Westmont, and refused to do myself.

    So I’m ignorant and smelly and have no right to my own opinion, experience and informed views. That’s typical of the Gestapo language and attitudes of the proponents in this campaign. As I write this, it appears we have defeated Measure E, and if so I will celebrate. Will all the doomsday scenarios come true?

    Will half the schools close? Class size jump to 50? Seventy teachers be laid off? Test scores plummet as those teachers who remain are so dispirited they slack off, or move to a more affluent district like Orinda? Wanna bet?


  • tmanno

    Mr. Green- so there is the proof that you are ignorant about public schools. Sure, colleges can be a scam, that’s where YOUR experiences were. There IS no tracking beyond AP classes and English language-learners at the high school level. All students must pass our Social Studies and English classes. There, you will find a mixed assortment of students with abilities ranging from remedial to college-ready. Why are they so mixed? It is due to the utopian dreams of educates who are also ignorant about public schools.

    Please, do not talk to me about love! I have spent 23 years in middle and high school classrooms, teaching all levels, and not just the elites who got to go to college.

    As for the Gestapo, my biggest fear is watching old curmudgeons resist the future with Palin-esque, Tea Party yahoo mentalities. Fortunately, this is the last gasp of the older, WASP dinosaurs before evolution brings the U.S. Into the rest of the world of nations.
    This exhibits the same anti-regulation mentality that Dick Armey utilized to destroy the world economy ( which was done to help his wife, an executive with ENRON!)

    Selah- I am done with this and your mean- spirited ways!

  • V Wong

    I had Tmanno as a economics teacher last year, and I have to admit he is one of the best teachers I’ve had throughout high school. Although I almost failed his class because his grading was so strict, he showed all the students love and gave us all the attention we needed where I passed his class with a D-!

  • Mr. Chowns

    So, Mr. Green.

    College students and High school students are very different from each other. High school students require way more discipline. And I’d say you had it easy if you only taught college.

    Props to the high school teacher dealing with noisy, absurd, and immature kids most of the time.

    This is so sad, you don’t even know what your talking about Mr. Green. You have no typical idea of how Public Education in K-12. In college, where tuition is thousands of dollar of course most students will be dedicated to learning if you gave them attention but will kids do the same? Most of them will not.

    You sir, Mr. Green. Are a intolerant, ignorant, smelly, and naive man.

    You know absolutely nothing about how public education needs to be handled and I’m surprised a man like you is even considered a “good” teacher. I’m pretty sure half your words are out of the bloom. Please stop trying to prove your point because it’s clear that you don’t nearly have enough experiences with public education to do anything.

    So please, go back to teaching those college kids and leave the hard job to your colleagues and then call them out for being bad at it.

    You mad bro? You getting mad?

  • In their press release today, AUSD said that no schools will close for the upcoming 2010/11 school year. That gives them time to try to pass another parcel tax, and/or for State funding conditions to improve for the better: “The Board of Education will convene a special meeting on June 29, 2010 to provide staff with direction as to the implementation of Plan B in the Master Plan. This will likely mean that school closure and/or reconfiguration planning process will begin in the fall of 2010 with actual closures occurring in the 2011/2012 school year.”

  • After experiencing the love of tmanno and Mr. Chowns, I’m dazzled by their contempt. As a member of the Lakota tribe, and after growing up poor as a sawmill kid in rural Humboldt County, with the help of three great teachers, I went on to Humboldt State and UCSB, working my way through in gas stations, on scholarships and taking out loans.

    If you both believe that college freshmen, from 17-18 years olf are that much more mature than high school students, get a clue! College kids party, come to class drunk or stoned, have to be disciplined and sometimes expelled. If you think teaching them is cush, a cakewalk, you forget your own college experience.

    All I’m saying is that there are some awful teachers everywhere, in public universities, and definitely in K-12. If you’re in denial about that, tough!

    Now, how do you explain the fact that nearly half of the registered voters in Alameda were so indifferent to the school’s supposed plight, they didn’t even bother to vote at all, and of those who did, less than two-thirds bought the party line? All those who voted “No on E” were stinky, ignorant curmudgeons, Tea Party Sarah Palins who moved here in some great White Flight Migration?

    Or have we finally learned that all those parcel taxes haven’t produced the “Excellence” they promised?


  • Mr. Chowns

    A majority of High school kids never stop talking during class, never do their homework, consistently cheat on tests, and goof around just a way bit too much. A lot of discipline is needed in order to promote good learning in a high school classroom.

    While in a college, I don’t know where you teach but most adults have matured enough to know that if they don’t do well, it follow them for the rest of their lives. Why? Because it’s college, they pay their own money to go there most of them WOULD know what’s going on.

    Your speaking of a possible 5-10% of the parameter of college students while I’m talking about 30%+ of high school students who are not old enough to comprehend the consequences of their actions. Middle school and Elementary school? At least more than half won’t behave throughout class.

    I never said there wasn’t some awful teachers everywhere? Have I? There’s always some awful teachers everywhere nothing’s perfect.

    I can tell there is a causation from your past for you to be such a ignorant man on these taxes. Please, don’t let your cruddy past which lead into a negative adulthood bring negativity into our community. What’s in the past is done with the past, so just please forget what has happened to you and do what is best for the people.

  • Michelle

    I am sure tmanno meant to say “de-evolves into the world of nations.” Outside of Alameda, the world is a swirling cesspool of gloom and doom.

  • I like Public Schools

    Hi Dennis Green. I want to let to know that I respect you. You have the right to your opinion, and you are not mean spirited. Sometimes I don’t agree with you but you are respectful and fearless. Frankly, I agree with this article, because I am a victim of bad elementary education. I don’t understand why grammar is not in the curriculum anymore.

    Thank you

  • Rob

    Mr. Green, I like your article, its true, many bad teachers in alameda plublic schools. They are hard on the students, including Asian kids. Its time to reform. Parents and students respect the good teachers but not the bad one.

  • gv

    Rumors around the schools , AUSD administrators and teachers dislike the Asian Chinese kids and providing bad grades for them. No wonder, hates behind…. If I had skills to teach, I would be a good teacher rather then….

  • GV – if you have somebody willing to speak on record, we will follow-up with a story.

  • gv

    If you like to get the story, starting with Elementary schools between 2009 and 2010. School year 2010, why all chinese kids writing in 2 in elementary? Do they really have problems in writing for their levels? most kids are perfect in writing for their levels and some are very good. Check each subject in Middle and High schools 2009 and 2010. Evidence proves that teachers providing bad grades for the kids.

  • Anonymous

    ASUD Administrations,teachers, not moral and violations of human Rights. It is racial.

  • Zelly

    I don’t understand why they want to be teachers if they hate the kids and find something else to fit and make them happy. Government wastes huge amount of money for administration and teachers but students not learning much because teachers have no teaching quality and accountability.

  • Anonymous

    There are some bad science and math teachers at wood and Lincoln middle School. So discriminative!

  • Qinu

    Difficult teachers at Encinal. Poor performing and bad Administration and teachers should be removed. Have teaching problems and not helping the students.

  • Anonymous

    City is a mess…. mismanagement……….

  • Parent

    Discrimination not good for the country…. Let go the mismanagement and bad teachers.

  • Lma

    AUSD waste tax dollars,many failing administrators and teachers.

  • Pat

    AUSD is very not moral do to kids…..illegal. Penalize and get rid their teaching license.

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