We had a day-long workshop last week on the achievement gap, which I’ve discussed in various earlier posts. What troubles all of us is that our black and Latino students (mostly from Dorchester, Roxbury, and other Boston neighborhoods) get significantly lower test scores and GPAs than our white and Asian students (almost entirely from Weston). Furthermore, a significantly lower percentage of the first group is in honors and AP courses, and many more of them withdraw from such courses after the deadline, thereby earning a grade of W. This, of course, is a nationwide problem, not just one in Weston — in fact, we have a smaller achievement gap than elsewhere.
This topic is one that many people are uncomfortable with and therefore don’t want to discuss. But it’s important to confront it and try to find solutions, so that’s what we did. It was generally a productive day, with a good balance between an analysis of the problem and proposals for a solution.
I have tentatively reached the following conclusions at this point:
- Cultural differences are a major factor, but we can do nothing about them.
- Summer programs, on the other hand, could make a major difference. The gap is widest in September and narrowest in June. Given the geographical gap and the time it takes to commute, summer programs in Boston (or accessible by public transportation) would be particularly helpful.
- Black and Latino students don’t see their peers in honors and AP courses, and don’t see black and Latino teachers either. (I’m talking about Weston here, not elsewhere.) Changing this fact could have a major impact. But how do we change it?
- There is an inherent contradiction between asking for increased honors/AP enrollment by black and Latino students and also asking for increasing GPAs: if more margin students take such courses, their grades will inevitably drop. We’re caught between a rock and a hard place, and I see no possibility of having it both ways.