Analysis: Data Problem Huge Impediment to Tackling the Achievement Gap

achievement-gap

Back in late September, the DJUSD School Board announced they had “unanimously agreed upon two areas for ongoing focus and prioritization: 1) Parcel Tax; 2) Opportunity/Access/Achievement Gaps.”

The Achievement Gap is by no means limited to DJUSD, but it is more pronounced in this district than others in our region. The district has talked about closing the achievement gap for some time and has had an achievement gap task force. However, they have had little success.

Research, such as a study out of the Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis, consistently shows, “School do not create achievement gaps. By the time children enter kindergarten, dramatic socio-economic and racial school-readiness gaps are deeply entrenched.”

In an article in Forbes on April 1, 2015, Thomas Ehrlich and Ernestine Fu note that “rigorous research shows that high-quality early childhood education is an extraordinarily powerful means to promote continued success in school, in the workplace, and also in social and civic realms.”

They cite research that shows that for a group of 123 at-risk low income black students, who were tracked from age three through 50, the impact of preschool programs was powerful – with 65 percent of those who went to preschool graduating from high school compared to 45 percent for those who did not.

The problem we face is that preschool is not universally available to all students. One example comes from a press release sent out by DJUSD back in September. It announced that DJUSD opened a fee-based preschool program from 7:30 to 2:30 Monday through Friday. The fee is $800 dollars per month.

The program, which has a 25 percent discount for district employees, represents a relatively affordable preschool program. But not only is it small – about 20 kids, but $800 is certainly well beyond the reach of low income families.

The options for low income families turn out to be few and far between. For instance, there are co-ops that allow parents to volunteer in the preschool program. The problem of course is that there are not enough slots available for these programs to meet the kind of demand we have for affordable schools. And for working-class families who rely on two parents to generate income, the amount of time they have to volunteer in the classroom, at least for co-ops, is prohibitive. For the most part, the co-ops are not serving disadvantaged kids.

There is also a Head Start. Head Start, of course, is the gold standard of education for low income and at-risk kids. However, in Yolo County there are only 450 spots available for the entire county. That is not nearly enough to meet the demand for affordable preschool for low income families in the city of Davis, let alone Yolo County.

According to recent estimates, about one-quarter of Davis’ students are designated as Title I. Title I, through the US Department of Education, is a definition that classifies low income and at-risk kids. Davis has a relatively low number of Title I students compared to surrounding districts, but we are still talking about more than 2000 students – how many of these students are getting preschool education?

That is one of the big unknown questions. According to the school district, the district does not track which students attend preschool and, therefore, we have no idea what percentage of percentage of DJUSD students attended preschool and how many Title I students attend.

This is a stunning omission from the district. How are we going to be able to attack something as large and pervasive as the achievement gap if we don’t even know what the problem is? We need resources to be sure, but we also need metrics. We appear to be flying blind here.

Every year the district requires families to fill out copious amounts of documents and yet they never ask students if their kids went to preschool and, if so, where.

This is of course not just an achievement gap issue, and it is not even necessarily a low income issue. There are students who will start out their formal education ahead and those that will start out behind, disadvantaged  – and for some of these, they will never catch up.

And so if we have prioritized the achievement gap, we have to attack it at its source and at the start. That means we need metrics to understand the impact of early childhood education on the achievement gap and where we as a community need more resources.

Fortunately, the County Superintendent of Schools has prioritized universal preschool, both in his campaign last year and in his actions this year. There will be an initiative coming forward which may be able to create a funding mechanism for universal programs – we will have to see the proposal, but, given the magnitude of the problem, it is unclear what that will entail and whether it will be enough.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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33 Comments

  1. Tia Will

    The options for low income families turn out to be few and far between”

    And this for me is a major example of how our society is structured to benefit those with resources and further disadvantage those without thus perpetuating our structure of inequality.

    There will be an initiative coming forward which may be able to create a funding mechanism for universal programs “

    This would be a huge step forward. But how sad that we have to cobble together resources for those in need instead of accepting as a norm that all should have equal access to programs that promote education for all of our citizens, not just those who can already afford to pay.

  2. Don Shor

    Preschool Reforms. Almost all of the research on preschool programs shows early gains in achievement, and that the early gains are not sustained. Moreover, the academic advantages of preschool programs are less likely to be sustained for children of color than for white children. We don’t know why, but the finding has been replicated many times.
    But these programs vary tremendously in quality. The Perry Pre-school evaluation famously found that particular program to be massively successful, with participating students half as likely to go into special ed, five times less likely to be incarcerated, four times more likely to earn $2,000 or more monthly. But the sad truth is that not all programs are good programs and, to make matters worse, white students are more likely to participate in preschools than their black peers and the schools they attend are more likely to be of high quality.

    GSE NEWS Rethinking the Achievement Gap

  3. wdf1

    Vanguard:  According to recent estimates, about one-quarter of Davis’ students are designated as Title I. Title I through the US Department of Education is a definition that classifies low-income and at risk kids. Davis has a relatively low number of Title I students compared to surrounding districts, but we are still talking about more than 2000 students – how many of these students are getting preschool education?

    Could you cite a source on this?  The number/estimate for DJUSD, that is.

  4. wdf1

    Another angle:

    WaPo, 10/23/2015:  ‘Forced busing’ didn’t fail. Desegregation is the best way to improve our schools.

    Research has shown that integration is a critical factor in narrowing the achievement gap. In a 2010 research review, Harvard University’s Susan Eaton noted that racial segregation in schools has such a severe impact on the test score-gap that it outweighs the positive effects of a higher family income for minority students. Further, a 2010 study of students’ improvements in math found that the level of integration was the only school characteristic (vs. safety and community commitment to math) that significantly affected students’ learning growth.

      1. DavisAnon

        Except it may be that the program was effective in decreasing the achievement gap for those minorities that were in the program. We will never know as the district was determined to prove the program should be shrunk, rather than looking to see if it could have been an effective way to serve the needs of some of our minority students, and use that information to decrease the achievement gap for a greater number of students. It is only anecdotal, but I have spoken to  african-American and Hispanic parents who felt the program had greatly benefited their children. Cutting AIM does nothing to improve the achievement gap.

        The achievement gap is an exceedingly important problem in our district and it needs to be dealt with head on.

  5. Frankly

    The achievement gap is not completely explained by family income.  Or said another way, family income differences are largely a symtom of other family-realted factors… which may or may not be caused by income levels.

    Traveling in this great country and always learn a lot talking to my cab drivers.   Driver from Somolia talked about how he was not smoking any weed and was attending community college while working as a cab driver to eventualy get a PHD in psychology so he could become a counselor to help youth get their heads straight so they don’t make mistakes in life that cripple their future prospects.  He said the US was the ONLY country where people can become anything they want to become.

    I asked him about his family hostory.  He said that his dad had been a professor of economics and his mother a school teacher before coming to the US.  He said that his parents came to the US so their kids could get a better life, but they didn’t have a lot of money… hence the need for him to drive a cab and attend a JC.

    The family-related factor here is child-development sophistication: the sophisticates vs. the non-sophisticates.

    Moving away from an industrialized economy and to an information economy has resulted in a greater need for higher levels of personal development.  Not only academic development, but also developed interpersonal skills. High-paying jobs are more often for professional knowledge workers that need to effectively collaborate with other workers.

    The sophisticates get it and have taken it to the next level.  They start working on early child development while it is still in the womb.  They emphasize education.  They spend time with their kids… talk to them, read to them. Pass on life lessons that keep the kids on a path toward greater academic success.   And there are genetics are work… strong acedemic tendecies breeding children with strong academic tendencies.

    It isn’t that the kids below the academic achievement line are doing far worse.  It is that the sons and daughters of the sophisticates are doing far better.

    Self-contained GATE/AIM serves to futher ecsaerbate that trend.

    The shift needed to start bridging the gap requires adequate differenciation.

     

    1. Davis Progressive

      “The achievement gap is not completely explained by family income.”

      have you read some of the stuff that wdf has posted?  family education level is vitally important.  but that is correlated with income.  if we lack preschool options that people from poorer backgrounds can utilize then that is a problem.  on the other hand, a lot of people who are well-educated, may have parents who make sufficient money to help them get their kdis into preschool.

      1. Don Shor

        if we lack preschool options that people from poorer backgrounds can utilize then that is a problem.

        If the preschool options are accessed more — or even equally in proportion — by non-minority families, you won’t solve the achievement gap. It’s a metric based on race and ethnicity. Even if you raise the scores of the whole district by 10%, you won’t solve the achievement gap.
        Preschool may be a desirable end in itself, but it isn’t likely to solve the achievement gap.

        1. Scheney

          Children of my generation rarely attended preschool.  We had mothers that stayed home.  My mother was unusual in that she sent me and my siblings off to a half day nursery school starting at 3 years old, where we learned shapes and colors, how to share and take turns and play and get along with others.  I attended Davis Parent Nursery School in 1962.  I remember it being a lot of fun.  Kindergarten, with all of its rules, lining up, and sitting still was definitely not as fun.   Is this what people are referring to as preschool?  Or are people saying that we need to start kids in school earlier – a pre-kindergarten starting at age 4?

    2. wdf1

      Frankly:  I asked him about his family hostory.  He said that his dad had been a professor of economics and his mother a school teacher before coming to the US.  He said that his parents came to the US so their kids could get a better life, but they didn’t have a lot of money… hence the need for him to drive a cab and attend a JC.

      The family-related factor here is child-development sophistication: the sophisticates vs. the non-sophisticates.

      To be more explicit and maybe more plain, I would have said that the family-related factor here is parent education level.  There is a very strong correlation between parent education level and the attained education level and potential success of the offspring.  You often comment that it is genetic.  Maybe.  But I think there is a very strong likelihood that it is related to the environment that the parents are able to provide.

      1. Frankly

        Families with working-class parents can also develop higher-performing kids.   It is more than just income and/or education of the parents, but I see both as strong contributors.

  6. Anon

    Pre-school is not going to solve the achievement gap problem.  A more likely way to assist students having difficulties is to provide in-school or after-school tutoring programs.

    Secondly, the teaching establishment has to get away from the new-fangled educational approaches and teach the basics, like phonics and math tables, i.e. drill, drill, drill.

    I used to teach 8th grade math and science.  I had students with varying backgrounds and ethnicities, from children of parents who worked in a shoe factory, to children whose parents worked on a military base or for the local gov’t.  Some kids came from very poor backgrounds, others more well to do.

    Yet 75% of my incoming math class could only manage simple addition problems consistently because they didn’t know their math tables.  If I gave them a problem such as 56×24, I was aghast that many of them would have to literally figure out what 6×4 was by drawing out 4 rows of 6 of the letter x and count the x’s to reach the number 24.  So with 75% of my students, we had to go back to drilling on the basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division tables.

    When my own kids entered school, the educational system was into the “see-say” methodology of reading.  That means memorizing whole words rather than learning what each letter of the alphabet sounds like and sounding out a word (phonics).  My kids were frustrated as heck and struggled with reading, so I taught them to read at home, as well as gave them good grounding in math.  So much of what my children learned they received at home.

    That is not to say that my kids had all bad teachers.  Far from it – some of their teachers were outstanding.  The problem has always been that good teaching is not necessarily consistent from year to year, either in quality of teaching or methodology of instruction.

    I was able to take my slowest class in 8th grade, which was made up of almost all black students, and teach them how to add, subtract, multiply and divide whole numbers, decimals and fractions.  I even threw in a little bit of algebra at the tail end.  The biggest hurdle these kids had was the feeling that they were stupid, and could never master the material.  I told them at the very beginning that I didn’t want to hear the words “I can’t do it”.  There was no doubt in my mind all of them could be successful given enough time and patience.

    Slower kids need confidence building, good foundational education that has nothing to do with the latest fad methodology, and teachers committed to instructing in a way that feeds materials at a proper pace that instills a feeling of achievement every time they work a problem, read a sentence, write a paragraph.  IMO that is how you address the achievement gap.  Pre-school won’t do it.

    1. Davis Progressive

      “Pre-school is not going to solve the achievement gap problem.  A more likely way to assist students having difficulties is to provide in-school or after-school tutoring programs.”

      while i agree that helping students before and after school is important – when my daughter was there they had the davis bridge program which was helpful.  however, you end up with kids without preschooling starting out way behind and many don’t catch up.  you should really look at some of the research on it.

      “Secondly, the teaching establishment has to get away from the new-fangled educational approaches and teach the basics, like phonics and math tables, i.e. drill, drill, drill.”

      but you are missing an essential point here – you are talking about a gap between some kids and other kids.  that’s not explained by the educational approaches because all kids are exposed to those approaches.

      1. Anon

        First, none of my kids went to pre-school and all graduated from UCD.  Pre-school will not solve anything, IMO as a former teacher.

        Secondly, new-fangled approaches are more confusing to those students with language problems or who are slower to catch on.  So when new methods are introduced, it becomes more difficult for those kids with little support at home to get the help they need, so they start floundering.  I watched this happen when I was teaching, and when my own kids went to school.  Stick to the basics and watch the achievement gap disappear.  The problem is the schools refuse to stick to teaching the basics – there is too much money to be made on new-fangled approaches.

    2. MrsW

      The biggest hurdle these kids had was the feeling that they were stupid, and could never master the material.

      Yes! Emotional and social intelligence affects learning.  On Facebook, I followed a link to an article about a curriculum being implemented in Berkeley Unified School District. —  BUSD Adopts New Cirriculum to Boost Kids Emotional Intelligence. BUSD performed a pilot study and CONFIRMED the curriculum works for them before rolling it out District-wide. DJUSD would be wise to take a look.

  7. davismom

     I attended Davis Parent Nursery School in 1962.  I remember it being a lot of fun.  Kindergarten, with all of its rules, lining up, and sitting still was definitely not as fun.   Is this what people are referring to as preschool?  Or are people saying that we need to start kids in school earlier – a pre-kindergarten starting at age 4?

    I think in Davis a lot of the preschools are like DPNS, play based programs that get kids used to circle time, work on gross and fine motor as well as the social skills needed for Kindergarten. They are fun and have elements of structure but nothing like you’d see in First Grade. (At least for my two kids Kindergarten was largely the same way except instead of a circle kids sat in rows on the floor and there were more structured and academic sorts of activities worked into their “day”.)

    1. Davis Progressive

      but that’s not what programs like head start are geared toward.  the problem is head start as this article suggests only hits a tiny percentage of the kids who need it.

      1. Scheney

        Why not just move to a full day kindergarten and start with academics at age 5?   Rather than look at preschool as the solution, why not address what we can control?

  8. MrsW

    Recommend that The Vanguard reach out to First 5 Yolo, which was funded in 1999 by Prop 10. “The Prop 10 initiative added a 50-cent-per-pack tax on cigarette sales to fund programs promoting early childhood development for children ages 0-5 and their families.”

    Recommend The Vanguard familiarize themselves with Bananas in Oakland, as well as Davis’ similar and now closed-childcare referral services.  Here is a link to the Enterprise’s August 13, 2015, story “Forty Years of Child Care Servies Come to an End.”

     

  9. Frankly

    Preschool, longer kindergarden… none of that is going to help significantly.

    Nationally, 60 years ago, just 3% of couples had a college degree.  Now it is over 25%.  In Davis it is over 50%.

    Education homogamy has always existed, but the numbers were small.

    And education homogamy turns into cognitive homogamy over time.

    Again, the gap is not due to the below the line students doing worse… it is the rise of the aboe-the-line education and congitive sophisticated.  Just look at the admissions testing and IQ averages for top schools over the last 60 years.  People my age that attended top Ivy League schools would not be accepted had they applied today.  We cannot (and should not) think about fixing the gap by hobbling the sophisticated.   But we absolutely should not give them more advantage over the unsophisticated.

    The solution to this problem requires two tracks.

    Track-1 – Provide services in the business of education that attempts to replicate the private family actions and behaviors of the sophisticated.

    Track-2 – Provide education-to-career paths that lead students to outcomes that better fit their cognitive and non-cognitive capabilities.

    Both of these tracks require differentiation.  They require individualized education plans.  They require some change to the grading standards being more relative to the student and less standarized across the student body… but still relying on final assessment tests to quantify the level of readiness for higher learning.

    We also need an economic policy that provides job opportunites for those below the sophisticated line.  It is realy aggravating to me seeing the same sophisticates (those blessed with all the advantages derived from educational and cognitive homogamy) agitating for extreme environmental policy that kills industrialism and blue collar jobs… and open borders immigration policy that floods the country with cheap labor thereby driving down wage rates for blue collar labor.

    And then they demand self contained classrooms for their already advantaged kids.

    And lastly, they blame business, CEOs, Republicans and capitalists for the growing wage gap.

     

    1. David Greenwald

      Frankly – You’re ignoring a lot of research here and too narrowly defining achievement gap. One of the studies I cited in the article is a long term longitudinal study that shows that low income students who go to preschool are 50 percent more likely to graduate from high school then those who didn’t. That’s not a small factor and that’s not a measure that’s nearly as ambiguous as you are defining it.

      1. Frankly

        We already have Headstart and no material differences have resulted.

        The studies you mention are too small to be relied upon for the level of new entitlement Obama is talking about.  The ROI will not be there.

        The free-preschool movement is basically just another Democrat attempt to increase the number of teacher union members.  Most of the studies supporting it are from reliable education establishment supporters.

        I am fine with more early childhood development assistance, but only within the framework of whole-child, individualized education pathing.

  10. TrueBlueDevil

    Politically incorrect suggestions.

    Why don’t we come up with a dozen different ways to encourage marriage in these low-achieving groups?

    Secondly, if we closed the border and allowed economics to work, wages and benefits would rise for lower-skilled Americans, which helps with family income, marriage, family formation, education, etc.

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