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January 05, 2011


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gary rith

The hope of head Start and the rest is to get poorer kids into books and pre-writing activities from a very young age. A lot of more affluent kids have books and paper in their life from such a young age, and poorer families either may not have it or there are other considerations in the home life. It would be fabulous if all little kids had tons of books and paper and crayons and got the same start at home and school---but it still does not seem to happen. I also remember, for example, when I was a preschool teacher, the 3 year olds who arrived with a bag of chips and a sugary drink for breakfast. Not exactly brain food from the parents either! Anyway, jen, too bad they cannot all have a nice family like yours.

unmitigated me

IN my sixth grade class, in a similarly privileged district, most of the kids could easily absorb in a book for 40 minutes. There were some, though, that still rankled, and needed other solutions. We worked on it all the time.

apathy lounge

I teach in one of the very schools you're talking about. In fact, my entire school district is considered "inner city". The Achievement Gap refers to the difference between white student performance and those of the Hispanic and African Americans. In our district there are entire training sessions devoted to figuring out the issues with our Hispanic population and most of it is because we have a 56% Hispanic student population and many are raised by parents who can't speak English or aren't completely fluent or even literate in their own language.

That said, nothing is EVER aimed at or directly referred to about the African American population (27%) of the students who perform even lower than the Hispanics. Sure, we reconize that they are--across the board--making lower grades and test scores, but it is never referred to in an isolated manner. We are never given training (nor do we have discussions in the open) about WHY they might be scoring even lower than kids who speak an entirely different language. It is supposed that discussing the low scores of African American kids makes us racists while discussing the gap represented by the Hispanics (their language and culture of origin which seems NOT to encourage kids to graduate high school for fear they won't return to the family early on and help support the extended family) does not.

It's frustrating because we're responsible for eliminating both parts of the GAP, but we can only talk about one aspect.

And I know what you're talking about with respect to the reading. Very few of my kids know to pull out a book and do SSR (Sustained Silent Reading) unless I tell them to. They certainly don't get it at home.

Life As I Know It

Yes, something is seriously wrong, but how do you go about fixing it? I think a lot has to do with family and parental influence, and in a lot of cases, a language gap. How do you change that?
A friend of mine is a big sister through Big Brother/Big Sister. Her little sister is 15 and has stopped going to school. Her father told her 2 years of high school is enough. Her mother doesn't much care. What do you do?
I don't know the answer.

phd in yogurtry

Your straight teeth observation sounds like it came right out of my brain. Straight teeth synonymous with attractive, affluent, well groomed. Parents who are calm, intelligent achievers, bookish and present (no meth addicts HERE). So many benefits taken for granted. A failure to appreciate the many struggles and barriers afflicting lower SES students. Adults who thumb their noses, presuming to be "better than" because their own kids have achieved whereas these kids from poor districts have not. Believing the accolades to be deserved outright. The disparity is more and more glaring, as you say. I feel powerless to have an impact.

Busy Bee Suz

You are always opening up my eyes to things I have not seen in person.
What I do know, learning habits {good or bad} start very early on.


Jenn, I see the same disparities and have the same concerns/fears/hopes. Thanks for giving me another layer of perspective on it.


I work for a school district in Oregon and I have children in yet another district here. I see extra money being spent to help these children succeed - but for most the success does not come. In my opinion, some want to suceed but what we are doing is not working and others do not want to suceed (which could be for many reason). I wish I knew of a way to fix the education system in the US.


Thanks for this post! It's one thing to know about a gap, and another to think about it in terms of two different classrooms and success (or lack of it) with the specific task of reading. I'm curious what your ideas are!

apathy lounge

Terri's right. In Texas, extra money is poured into the poorer/low-performing schools and yet success does not come...or...if it does, it's the exception and not the rule.

Unfortunately, the current trend is to assume that the only person responsible for the success of a student is the teacher. These days, teachers are held hostage between parents who threaten to sue and new state regulations which see fit to cut down on staff and increase class size while loading us down with a crushing load of expectation. Apparently the parents and students themselves can no longer be held accountable for cooperating with the schools or the programs they put forth. One does not have to be well educated or affluent to understand that when a teacher calls the house/writes a note to request a conference, a response is required. That if your child's progress reports or report cards indicate failing grades, that THIS is the same thing as a teacher tapping you on the shoulder and communicating concern. The ball, after this, is in the parents' court and it is their job to respond with concern...not mine.

I have at least four students with incarcerated parents. 80% of my homeroom is considered to be socio-economically disadvantaged. Their parents will cough up a $10 rollerblading fee for a PE unit, but they won't send $5 for a year-long Weekly Reader subscription upon which their Social Studies class is based. They'll take them to the barber to pay for ridiculous looking "fades" (intricate designs to be shaved into their heads...bullseyes/words/spiderwebs/sports team insignias)or to the hair dresser for expensive weaves (I teach FOURTH GRADE!!), but can't be bothered to provide notebook paper or pencils. It took me three weeks to convince an Hispanic parent to allow his daughter to come to my after-school Reading tutorial (she was nearly failing) because he didn't want to "waste the gas" to make a second trip to pick her up at school (his words). It all points to a lack of priority...some culturally based and others based on apathy or ignorance. I'm not supposed to care about these kids more than their own parents and certainly I'm not supposed to sacrifice taking care of my own sons in favor of "mothering" my students who have parents (inept as they might be) of their own. Every teacher I know is completely worn out and if the public knew how much of our already low salary has to go toward purchasing classroom supplies or learning materials which the state no longer supplies and the parents refuse to buy, they'd be shocked. At least...I would HOPE they'd be shocked. Guaranteed, no one wants to trade places with me and I've got the ulcer to prove it. I love to teach, but it seems tha teaching is the least of what I do these days.


So is this all about what is not happening in the home? If so, how can that be counteracted? Can early childhood education counteract it? I am curious to hear about your ideas.


When Oprah Winfrey was asked why she didn't help lower socio-economic kids in the U.S. instead of the ones in Africa, she said the choice wasn't hard to make.

Poor American kids, when asked what they wanted most, replied "sneakers, ipods" and the like. African kids responded, "books."

So it doesn't get any lower economically than certain areas in Africa. The difference might be that they aren't running in malls, hanging out on street corners, dealing drugs, playing mindless video games,not going home to negligent parents or any of a million things.

Call Oprah, she might have the answers.


One of the best pieces of parenting advice that I got very early was to raise a reader you must be a reader. Model the behavior that we are looking for. Early on that meant reading together the same book, later it became sitting together reading different books.
I agree it cannot be solved in classroom, but rather probably starts in the home. As a long time parent activist and a current school board member we all struggle with how to help minimize that gap in a meaningful way. One parent to another the conversation must begin very early. If your community has preschool available to low income families HOPEFULLY it has a parent Education component, if you can get the parents there, then you can begin the conversation early enough. We are all on the same team, but we speak different languages both literally and metaphorically. It's a never ending conversation about how to encourage our kids to learn to be successful.


There is a huge difference in schools, and the surrounding community has a big influence on what the school will look like. When we lived in El Paso, we had an elementary school that was surrounded by low-income, blue-collar working families, including some military housing. Many of the kids qualified for free breakfast and lunch. Out on the streets, there was litter and broken glass, but once you walked onto school property, everything was neat and tidy. The halls and classrooms were clean and bright, and the principal set the tone: when you come to school, you come to learn. There were plenty of incentives to get kids to read, to take AR tests, to do well in school. Parents showed up for PTA meetings because a different class provided a program (entertainment) each time. The school definitely made an effort to bring in the parents to educate them, including some wonderful summertime programs where parents learned how to teach/help their kids with math. I loved our time there.
Our former high school was in a middle class area, and there was quite the mix of races and backgrounds, along with various attitudes (kids and parents alike) about teen behavior. It is quite the contrast to the upper-middle class area where I now live, where the graduation rate is 98%, I've yet to see a pregnant teenager, and very few teens smoke. There is an expectation to kids will go on to college. Unfortunately, there isn't much in the way of racial or ethnic diversity.

How much of these differences is based upon attitudes in the home? How much is based upon the culture of the community?
Sesame Street and the Children's Television Workshop were wonderful when they first started, and since they were the only thing on TV for kids at the time, they had a fairly captive audience. But is the programming available today that is making a difference?

green girl in wisconsin

That is interesting. WHAT is going on there?


Jenn, you've nailed it right there with those words "societal crisis." Absolutely. Perhaps your writing will find its way to impacting people on a profound level on this issue. Your words are true and you are in the trenches yourself. It speaks volumes.

Happy New Year! Hope to see you this year.


Oh man, you are getting discouraged with teaching already, are you? Yes, there are many, many problems in the system, but while you can't change everything, you can be that bright shining ray of sunshine in those kid's lives. And, when I say "those", I mean the disadvantaged students, because I feel that is the group you will end up working with - you seem to enjoy motivating them!

Jenn @ Juggling Life

No, not discouraged with teaching. Just worried about our future!


I have often said to people that you get out of our schools what you put in....if you are a parent that is involved with your kids and aware of everything going in their lives and encourage them (stay on them - in a good way) you will get positive results. What I see with many of my kids friends is parents that are way too self-involved to make the time to be there. As for cultural barriers for some students - my parents were immigrants (back in the 1960's) any my sister and I were good students and really involved in school activities. But then again, when my parents came here it was so that their children could get a great education and live the American dream. My parents became citizens because of their respect for America - which is not what I see happening today with immigrants.


The first thing I look for in any house I visit is books. Too often, even in middle class homes, there are none. This is, indeed, a problem for all of us--because it starts in the home. It's most obvious in lower income brackets, but it's even more pervasive than that, methinks.

On the other hand, tests for gifted and talented kids in our district use only puzzle-solving abilities as a measurement of "giftedness"...no reading or writing abilities at all, so the problem gets reinforced from all directions. Okay, I know this is a different topic--this how to create a fair standardized test--but somehow there's a tie-in in my mind.

Deb D

I noticed a similar trend when I was a reading tutor for grade 4 to 6 students. Only one of my students was from an upper middle class background and he he and mild disability. His parents advocated for him to get the extra help he needed to succeed which was in fact much less than my other students needed. I agree with the posters that say that most successful students have a lot of support and teaching at home. Parents don't depend on the schools to do all the teaching. I'll never forget the day that Computer Dude came home - threw his backpack in the corner and exclaimed "If these kids don't know their multiplication tables by now there is NOTHING I can do for them"! He was in grade 7 and his math enrichment was peer tutoring. The world is a better place for the fact he isn't planning on teaching but it did bring home to me the disadvantages that some kids face.


Mmmmmm hmmmmmmmm. I know exactly what you mean.


You DO have the POWER to make a difference baby and we are going to harness it to the fullest capacity!! Now is the time!!!

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