Achievement gaps are a major problem facing the US educational system. These gaps exist in many identified areas including race, gender, sexual orientation, and most importantly socioeconomic. I say that socioeconomic is the most important area because poverty is a common thread among all of the other achievement gaps identified (Dynarski, 2017).
I specifically chose the socioeconomic achievement gap (SEAG) because I work in a district that is particularly affected by poverty and the bulk of my former research has focused on this issue as well as improving student achievement despite socioeconomic factors, namely poverty. To be more Specific Haralson County schools’ student body is listed as being 34.5% economically disadvantaged second only to Polk County (35.1%) in our geographical area (GOSA, 2022). This poverty rate is higher than the state average of 14% (Census.gov, 2022) and the national poverty rate of 14.1% (Poverty center, 2022). This data shows that this is a cogent factor in the Achievement gap in both my school district and in my region of Georgia as a whole. It is my sincere hope in this paper to synthesize the research on the subject as well as present possible solutions with a focus on viability and implications for the school district in which I serve.
The history of the SEAG can be traced to the 1960’s particularly in a survey requested by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Colman, 1966). The argument for more spending can also be seen in President Lyndon Johnson’s call for a national Head Start program as prescribed by the Great Society. Essentially it is second nature to assume that more money spent per student equals a better educational outcome (Porter, 2022). This is because of the inherent problems related to poverty: food, shelter, and safety are all primary drivers for all humans alike, if you take any of these aspects away then it is hard to think of anything else, much less learn (NASSP, 2022). The following review of the literature will highlight the prevailing research on the topic and point to possible remedies for students through both teacher, administrative, and societal reforms.
Review of the Literature
It is first important to understand what the SEAG is and its impact on students and schools before looking at ways to address it. The following studies and research address and add to this understanding.
In Gap or gaps: Challenging the singular definition of the achievement gap Carpenter, and Severn (2006) argue that the achievement gap is actually made up of achievement gaps, and all of these gaps in achievement interplay to cause overall lack of achievement. This is particularly interesting to my research because it shows the importance of the SEAG across all achievement gaps. The researchers point out in this source that all of the achievement gaps existing in the US educational system can be traced to socioeconomic status. This does not show that one achievement gap is more important than any other but rather points to an area to address that will have a high impact on achievement, namely socioeconomics. A further study that shows these links is found in the work of Kuhfeld, Gershoff, & Paschall (2018) which points to a connection between racial achievement gaps and the SEAG.
In The global increase in the socioeconomic achievement gap, 1964-2015 Chmielewski (2019) traces the increase in the SEAG from 1964-2015. This source is critical because it is an empirical study using data to trace the growth of the SEAG instead of only opinion. The study points to Socioeconomic Status (SES) as the main driver of achievement across cultures, within the US, and internationally. The key finding of the study focuses on academic achievement being seen as the most important way for parents to improve the lives of their children (across all SES groups), but the groups with higher SES having more resources to further and improve their children’s’ education, thus furthering and exacerbating the SEAG. This research is extended and by Hanushek et al. (2019) in their work The Achievement Gap Fails to Close which again points to a SEAG as an underlying cause of the achievement gaps across the spectrum.
In Its not nothing: The role of money in improving education a research report from the Brookings Institute Mark Dynarski seeks to dispel the myth that money has no impact on the SEAG by critiquing a landmark study presented by Colman (1966). Dynarski completely debunks the notion that federal spending has not positively affected the SEAG. He instead focusses on where that money goes versus where it should go. He argues that the federal money spent per student should go in greater proportions either to students in hopes of directly impacting issues derived from poverty or to improve teacher training. This is an important distinction because these two areas the student and the teacher are the most impactful measures to close the SEAG (Dynarski, 2017). This is concurred and strengthened by a study from Jackson, Johnson, & Persico (2015) wich further explores outcomes for students through the lens of the SEAG in The effects of school spending on educational and economic outcomes: Evidence from school finance reforms. The researchers found that students from lower income families benefited greatly from more federal spending in all metrics including earning and career potentiol outside of their school years (Jackson, Johnson, & Perisco, 2015, p.41).
Now with the understanding of the achievement gap through literature in hand, we must turn our focus to the literature involving how to close the SEAG. Each of these studies offers ideas and strategies on how to improve the SEAG through both spending, teacher education, and changes to the practices of school leadership.
The bulk of the research literature deals with school personel and leadership practices, primarily focusing on improving quality of teachers and school leaders to better match the resources of high economic status families. Fryer and Dobbie (2010) focus on this concept of improving schools to better match the resources of high performing socio economic groups, and through their research study found school resources do make a difference. Cook et al. (2015) call for extensive remediation and tutoring programs to help address the SEAG in Not too late: Imrpoving academic outcomes for disadvantaged youth. Chavalere et al.(2021) call for more technology use in the classroom to address the SEAG and provide opportunities for students within this group. They primarily argue that technology can bridge the gap and offer opportunities for students from poverty to have similar expericences to their higher income peers including: virtual tours of museams and access to library resources for study.Roland Fryer (2007) argues that poverty is a result of continued social interactions with others in poverty groups, what he calls “poverty traps” and advocates for students to find role models outside of these traps to emmulate, including teachers and school leadership. This understanding of the role of school leadership is highlighted and improved through the research of Smith and Gumus (2022). These two researchers focused specifically on the power of school leadership to address the SEAG through policy and curricula changes at the school wide/distric wide level. Essentially no major changes can be made without leadership.
The primary implications of the research literature for both education and my practice include understanding that there is a SEAG and ways to address that SEAG. By understanding first that the SEAG is a major issue that crosses racial and geographical lines we can begin to work to fix the issue incrementally. The further research into how to fix the issues gives me and educators like me the incremental path to lessening the SEAG or closing it all together. This is important because education should be the great equalizer and it seems that it has not been living up to that mantle as of late. Perhaps through the studies cited above and future scholarship we can help to move policy in the right direction one leader and teacher at a time.
Reflection and Next Steps
The questions of how to fix the issues at hand with the SEAG are answered within the research and the answers involve both monetary investments into schools and school personnel, but also attitude changes in teachers in both how we view students’ ability and also how we teach our academic subjects. Per the research I am going to begin to implement changes to my teaching to improve the SEAG in my school system, both through advocacy and my own personal teaching strategies. The prevailing aspects of the research point to what works and that is improving teacher training and education, school leadership improvements to policy and curricula, and better use of technology in the classroom. These are all things that can be done by regular teachers and school administrators, outside of these reforms monetary reforms for schools will have to be made to further close the SEAG and that will have to come from local school boards or county and state governments, outside of advocacy and voting I and fellow teachers will have little effect on this aspect of the SEAG. The key take away from this research is that the most important aspect of closing the SEAG is me, as the classroom teacher and essentially role model of success I am closest to my students and have the greatest amount of power to improve their lot in life by taking an interest in them and doing as good of a job as possible. This is both a daunting and exhilarating task and I hope that I am up for it, using the research studies listed above as a guide I am sure that I will be able to at least be a small benefit to my students and in closing the SEAG.
Carpenter, D. M., Ramirez, A., & Severn, L. (2006). Gap or gaps: Challenging the singular definition of the achievement gap. Education and Urban Society, 39(1), 113-127. https://doi.org/10.1177/0013124506291792.
Census.(2022). Quick facts/GA. Census.gov. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/GA
Chavalere, J., Cazenave, L., Berthon, M., Martinez, R., Mazenod, V., Borion, M., . . . Huguet, P. (2021). Compensating the socioeconomic achievement gap with computer assisted instruction. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 38(2), 366-378. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcal.12616.
Chmielewski, A. K. (2019). The global increase in the socioeconomic achievement gap, 1964-2015. American Sociological Review, 84(3), 517-544. https://doi.org/10.1177/0003122419847165.
Colman, J. (1966). Equality of educational opportunity. US Department of Health Education and Welfare Office of Education. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED012275.pdf
Cook, P., Dodge, K., Farkas, G., Roland, G., Fryer, J., Guryan, J., . . . Steinberg, L. (2015). Not too late: Imrpoving academic outcomes for disadvantaged youth. Institute for Policy Research: Northwestern University, WP-15-01. 1-86 Retrieved from https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/fryer/files/not_too_late._improving_academic_outcomes_for_disadvantaged_youth_2015.pdf.
Dynarski, M. (2017). Its not nothing: The role of money in improving education. The Brookings Institute, Retrieved from https://www.brookings.edu/research/its-not-nothing-the-role-of-money-in-improving-education/.
Fryer, R. G. (2007). A model of social interactions and endogeneous poverty traps. Rationality and Society, 19(3). 335-366. Retrieved from https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/fryer/files/a_model_of_social_interactions_and_endogenous_poverty_traps.pdf.
Fryer, R., & Dobbie, W. (2010). Are high-quality schools enough to increase achievement among the poor? Evidence from the harlem children’s zone. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 3(3). 158-187. Retrieved from https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/fryer/files/hcz_nov_2010.pdf.
GOSA. (2021). Schools like mine dashboard. Gosa.ga.gov. Retrieved from https://schoolslikemine.gosa.ga.gov/
Hanushek, E. A., Peterson, P. E., Talpey, L. M., & Woessmanm, L. (2019). The achievement gap fails to close. Education Next, 19(3), 8-17. Retrieved from http://hanushek.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/publications/Hanushek%2BPeterson%2BTalpey%2BWoessmann%202019%20EdNext%2019(3).pdf.
Jackson, C. K., Johnson, R. C., & Persico, C. (2015). The effects of school spending on educational and economic outcomes: Evidence from school finance reforms. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 131(1) 157-218 Retrieved from https://gsppi.berkeley.edu/~ruckerj/QJE_resubmit_final_version.pdf
Kuhfeld , M., Gershoff , E., & Paschall, K. (2018). The development of racial/ethnic and socioeconomic achievement gaps during the school years. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 57, 62-73. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appdev.2018.07.001.
NASSP. (2022). Poverty and its impact on students’ education. Retrieved from nassp.org: https://www.nassp.org/poverty-and-its-impact-on-students-education/#:~:text=These%20factors%20often%20place%20more,success%20during%20the%20school%20day.
Porter, A. (2022). Rethinking the achievement gap. Retrieved from https://www.gse.upenn.edu/news/rethinking-achievement-gap
Poverty Center. (2022). 3.4 million more children in poverty in February 2022 than December 2021. Columbia.edu. Retrieved from https://www.povertycenter.columbia.edu/news-internal/monthly-poverty-february-2022#:~:text=Monthly%20poverty%20remained%20elevated%20in,poverty%20rate%20of%2012.5%20percent.
Smith, E., & Gumus, S. (2022). Socioeconomic achievement gaps and the role of school leadership: Addressing within- and between- school inequality in student achievement . International Journal of Educational Research, Vol. 112. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijer.2022.101951.
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