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Call Me Cynical, But I Just Don’t Think This Workbook Is Going To Help Us “Close The Achievement Gap”

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Our state Superintendent of Schools, Jack O’Connell, has just announced that “the state has developed new workbooks designed to help educators make changes at their schools that can close the gap between higher- and lower-performing students. The books are expected to be delivered to districts in the coming weeks.”

You can access the workbook online.

If, after looking at it, your first reaction is (as mine was) “Certainly no K-12 teachers (or administrators) helped write this thing,” you’d be absolutely correct. Fourteen education “consultants” and two university professors are listed as contributors. I can’t imagine this 152 page document, filled with charts, a zillion techniques, and a bunch of checklists and forms is going to get anything more than a cursory look by most teachers and administrators — if that.

Plus, as far as I can tell (and I have to admit I might have missed it as my eyes glazed over reading it) it doesn’t even mention anything about parent engagement.

That’s not to say it’s all bad. It does contain some decent advice and recommendations on where to find resources. But the authors don’t seem to know what I learned years ago by this incident that I’ve recounted previously (see A Few Simple Ways To Introduce Reluctant Colleagues To Technology):

Many years ago I helped operate a soup kitchen on San Jose’s (CA) Skid Row. We were well-meaning, but not the most responsible neighbors. On day I was sweeping around the passed-out men and women on our front porch when a police car drove-up. An officer got out and started yelling me, saying that we couldn’t control thing and they received many complaints about us. As the officer continued, one of the men on the porch pulled himself up on the railing and yelled out, “Officer, Larry tries. He tries hard. We just don’t listen to him!”

I’ve often thought about that incident during my nineteen year career as a community organizer and six years as a public school teacher. I’ve framed the lesson I learned that day as a question, “Do I want to be right? Or do I want to be effective?”

I’ve also written about it in my Teacher Magazine article “Giving Classrooms A Purpose.” Instead of giving people laundry lists of techniques that will make their eyes glaze over, let’s help them learn some key concepts that make sense and can guide their everyday instructional practice.

If people are interested in learning strategies on narrowing the achievement gap, I’d encourage them instead to read about the Five “Essential Supports” For Student Success and how they’ve been implemented in some Chicago schools.

Of course, in any conversation about the achievement gap, I’m in agreement with Richard Rothstein’s perspective that schools can narrow it, but can’t close it alone. I also discuss that issue further in my book, Building Parent Engagement In Schools, and how schools can work with community groups to deal with issues like health, affordable housing, and jobs.

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

2 Comments

  1. Wowee! I don’t even know where to start with this one. I had the same response with the workbook and I will be sharing with my colleagues. In addition to the “Call me cynical….” thought I also was thinking “Wait a minute. You have money to produce this book with all of these consultants and send it out to all districts, but you don’t have money to keep my class sizes below 38? Or make sure I have paper? Or provide me with a variety of books for my students to read? Or send me to relevant training?”

  2. Great post, Larry – I haven’t checked out the booklet yet, but I love the point about guiding principles instead of prescriptions or recipes. Among the teachers I know best, few if any adopt whole booklets of curriculum. To really affect what we do, publishers need to understand what motivates us.

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