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Achievement Gaps
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Can the Achievement Gaps be Overcome?

  1. How to Close the Achievement Gap: Research and Policy

Researchers Offer Lessons Learned to Overcome the Achievement Gap

Two authors outline the lessons learned and recommendations for future efforts at eliminating the achievement gap.

This reports some of the ideas and findings from the following source:

Johnston, R. C., & Viadero, D. (2000, March 15). Unmet promise: Raising minority achievement.Education Week. Retrieved April 2, 2002, from

To see other reports that originated from this same citation, go to the bibliography.

Robert Johnston and Debra Viadero explain that there is a disparity between the academic performance of African Americans and Hispanics and that of white students. According to the authors, this disparity, referred to as the "achievement gap," is one of the most pressing issues in education today and is only getting worse as minority populations increase at a rapid rate.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the achievement gap began to decrease, but at the end of the 1980s, the progress ended abruptly. Researchers sought to explain why there was this drop-off in progress. The authors suggest the following reasons:



Peer pressure

  • Doing well in school is often considered "acting white" by African Americans.
  • "Kids care more about the reaction of their peers than they do about the reactions of their parents or teachers.” (Seeking Answers section, ¶ 2)

Variations in parenting

  • Some evidence shows that white parents interact with their children "in ways that better support school success"(Seeking Answers section, ¶ 3).
  • African-American and Hispanic parents tend to not encourage students as much as the students get older. “There is a level of under-involvement of black folks at every level of education," say the authors (Seeking Answers section, ¶ 5).


  • Although the authors claim poverty does not account for all the differences, it is a factor

Surprisingly, family structure is not a factor in determining the success of a student. The authors claim that whether a child is from a single-family home or a two-parent household does not affect a child’s academic performance.

The Political Climate Must Motivate Change

The forces of change can come from many different players—schools, communities, think tanks, and national advocacy groups.

The authors cite the following examples of efforts underway and offer some lessons learned:




Council of the Great City Schools Task Force

The Council formed the task force to identify twelve school systems where the gap is narrowing.

Task force found insufficient standards for testing. Too much inconsistency makes results unreliable.

National Urban League’s Campaign for African American Achievement

The Campaign urges black parents to demand higher achievement from their schools and students.

The campaign set out to construct a different message and different type of peer pressure.

A group of small-city and suburban districts formed a coalition to study and share non-Asian minority achievement

Most studies did not disaggregate the numbers, which led to misleading findings.

This group reinforced the need to find the appropriate measures to test the correct things.

Success Stories Demonstrate Ways to Reduce the Achievement Gap

Finding #1: Consistent and solid curriculum
What is important to increasing the performance ofAfrican American and Hispanic students is the “solid and consistent implementation of curricular programs” (Success Stories section, ¶2).This consistency is actually more important than the programs themselves.
Finding #2: Long-term leadership with high expectations
High expectations from leaders will trickle down through the system.
Finding #3: A principal’s success is dependent on his or her authority over decision-making.
Research demonstrates that if a principal has authority over decisions such as "curricular and spending decisions, 'tangible and unyielding goals', careful teacher recruitment, regular student assessments, and systemic parent outreach," that principal will achieve more success than those who do not (Success Stories section, ¶ 6).

The authors conclude that reversing the achievement gap "is no accident." This is a complex and difficult fight that must include a "real dialogue" and understanding about race and its effects on students’ performance.


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