FOCUS DC News Wire 9/30/2015

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Math content in schools adding to achievement gap, new study finds
The Washington Post
Lyndsey Layton
September 30, 2015

The gap in math performance between poor students and their wealthier peers is due in large part to the systemically weaker math content in schools that teach low-income students, according to a new study released Wednesday.

In a peer-reviewed study published in the journal of the American Educational Research Association, researchers analyzed test scores of students who took the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment, an international test given by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

They found that a large amount of the difference in math scores between poor and wealthier students can be traced to unequal access to strong math content in school. The researchers said the problem is worldwide and not isolated to the U.S.

But they estimated that nearly 40 percent of the gap in U.S. student performance in math can be traced to that unequal access; the researchers attributed the remaining 60 percent to family and community background.

“We’ve had this debate for some time about whether schooling can help at least lessen the impact of social class inequality,” said William H. Schmidt, one of the authors of the study. “That’s part of the American Dream — if children come, take school seriously and work hard, they have a chance a better existence. But we find that the schools are making things worse, not helping.”

Schmidt, Nathan Burroughs, and Richard Houang, all of Michigan State University, and Pablo Zoido, of OECD, analyzed the test scores of 300,000 students, all either 15 or 16.

In nearly all the countries that gave the test, a significant amount of the difference in scores between low and high income students could be traced to weaker math content in the schools that teach low-income students.

And although “tracking” — teaching different groups of students different material — has been frowned upon in recent years by most U.S. public schools, the practice endures in a repackaged format, Schmidt said.

“There’s a certain amount of tracking that still goes on, ” Schmidt said. “A lot of it is what I call shell games. If you look at transcripts, you’ll see a school offers 10 different kinds of Algebra classes — Algebra 1, Algebra A, B and C and so on. And a parent thinks, ‘Oh, my kid is doing fine, he’s taking Algebra.’ But upon closer examination, that student is getting something different. And it’s showing up in our analysis quite strongly.”

The study comes as record numbers of homeless and poor children are filling classrooms in U.S. public schools.

On average, across the 33 OECD countries studied, roughly one-third of the difference in math test scores between poor and wealthier students was due to unequal access to challenging math in school. But that factor varied across countries, from a low of 10 percent in Iceland and Sweden to almost 60 percent in the Netherlands, according to the study.

“One thing people say is ‘Oh, you can’t make access more equal, social class is always related to what you’re getting in school,’” Schmidt said. “But look at Sweden, where the social class inequity is greater than in the U.S. But all the kids get the same basic opportunities, the same content coverage. They’ve taken (the inequity) out of the schools.”

One solution may be the Common Core State Standards, a uniform set of K-12 math and reading academic standards rolled out by more than 40 states and the District of Columbia in the years since the PISA test that formed the basis for the new analysis, Schmidt said.

But the key is how the standards are applied to the classroom, and whether all students get access to the same content, particularly in the middle school and high school years, when grouping by “ability” is most prevalent, he said.

“Almost 40 percent of social class inequality is coming through schooling,” he said. “If we can just figure out policies that can eliminate that, we can lessen (inequality) by 40 percent. That’s one big thing we can do about it.”

D.C. schools are recruiting 500 tutors to mentor minority boys
The Washington Post
Michael Alison Chandler
September 29, 2015

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser and cadets for the Metropolitan Police Department are among the first volunteers to mentor minority boys in D.C. public schools this year.

Bowser (D) announced her plans at a kick-off event for new mentors on Monday evening at Howard University. She said she wants to be part of what she hopes will become a “great army of people who are going to help” improve prospects for some of the school district’s most struggling students.

“Boys are not having the same achievement results as others,” Bowser said. “We can and must do better.”

She said, “DCPS cannot do this work alone.”

Black and Latino boys make up 43 percent of the students enrolled in D.C. public schools last year. By almost any measure — reading and math scores, attendance and graduation rates — their performance lags that of girls and white males.

Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced plans last January to funnel resources toward programs aimed at improving the performance and school experience of these students through a new “empowering males of color” initiative.

The centerpiece of her plan is the creation of an all-boys male college preparatory school scheduled to open next fall east of the Anacostia River.

Another key strategy is to recruit 500 mentors from the Washington area over the next two years to read with struggling students and offer support in other ways.

Mentors will receive training from D.C. schools and from some of its community partners, including Higher Achievement, Reading Partners, For Love of Children and Mentors, Inc.

So far 660 people have expressed interest in mentoring, said Robert Simmons, the school system’s chief of innovation and research who is leading the initiative.

About 180 mentors have actually gone through the required process of submitting fingerprints for a background check and taking a TB test.

Mentors will work with boys who are struggling in school but have high attendance. They must commit to meet with students at least once a week for an hour.

Newly recruited mentors who attended the event Monday night included a social worker who is also a ring announcer for professional boxing, a former Teach for America fellow who recently moved to the District, and a Howard University student who said he was motivated because someone helped him achieve his dream of going to the historically black college.

Many city government employees, including members of the police department, are also among the first to sign up.

Bowser’s new mentee is a first grade student at Malcolm X Elementary in Southeast Washington named Tyler Towles.

The 6-year-old said he did not know who the mayor was until recently. He met her for the first time Monday evening.

“She’s going to help me with my reading,” he said. He likes to read, especially “Fly Guy” books, he said.

His mother, Ashley Carter, said she was eager to sign him up for the mentoring program. “I want to do anything that will help him go to college,” she said.



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