Attacking The Achievement Gap: A Battle For Our Children’s Future

Dr. Kevin M. Maxwell, Superintendent of Schools

When I arrived as Superintendent in 2006, the top priority for our school system was unquestionably to eliminate the achievement gap. In fact, I stated emphatically in my first budget address to the Board that I believed we would be the first school system in the state to do so.

That continues to be our top priority today, not because it sounds nice or because it satisfies an Office For Civil Rights Mediated Agreement. It remains in the forefront of our efforts because it is the right thing for children – all children.

A child’s race, ethnicity or social status should play absolutely no role in the opportunities he or she has to make the most of his or her talents. As a society and a school system, our collective job is to develop programs that support children and propel them as high as they can go, in some cases higher than they themselves believe they are capable of soaring.

Anne Arundel County Public Schools defines the achievement gap as “the difference between the performance of all student groups and the AACPS-identified standards.” The consistency of this definition is important, as it allows us – and the public – to easily identify the gaps where they exist and to tie achievement to the attainment of standards. In that regard, eliminating the gap allows us to reach most, if not all, of our other academic achievement goals.

There has been progress, albeit slower than ideal, but fully addressing the intricacies of this complex issue takes time. As a colleague said recently, it is one thing to say we’re going to build a rocket to go to the moon. Doing it is a lot more complicated.

We have spent considerable time identifying the many factors and issues related to achievement disparities. Our terms of engagement, the ways in which we attack the gap, must hasten the pace. We must accept nothing that does not, in some way, contribute to our goals. Those terms of engagement involve public and private sectors, and small and large groups and organizations. Everyone is on the front line in this mission.

That mission, I believe, focuses around six core terms of engagement:

● High expectations for all. We must consistently convey to children that we expect their best effort.

● Differentiated instruction. We must address each individual learner’s needs in ways that best maximize their chances for success.

● Equitable access to – and success in – rigorous courses. We must open the doors of classrooms to students based on their true potential, not a perceived one. Children can’t meet the high expectations we hold if they are denied access to the programs and courses that can propel them there. As importantly, we must provide students with adequate supports to help them achieve.

● Family and community collaboration. Public-private partnerships are critical to the success of students and schools. We must draw on resources from all sectors to contribute what they can to ensure student success.

● Highly skilled and diverse workforce. Children need role models who can help them achieve their goals. More importantly, they need to be able to see themselves in the successful role models before them.

● Culturally proficient school climates. Our schools and our society must be places where diversity is viewed as a strength instead of a weakness, and where educators in all walks of life recognize and appreciate cultural differences.

To be sure, these measures have led to successes in our county. For example, at Mills-Parole Elementary School, the numbers of African-American students performing at the advanced level in both reading and math has increased by 50 percent in the last two years. At Quarterfield Elementary, the numbers of African-American students scoring advanced have more than doubled in both subjects.

Our challenge continues to be replicating successes like those throughout our county, and at every level. That is the mindset that all of us must adopt. Make no mistake: This is a battle for our children’s future.

The writer is Superintendent of Anne Arundel County Public Schools.

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