The achievement gap is the measurable disparity of the socioeconomic statuses and educational performance of different groups of people in the United States. The achievement gap usually falls along socioeconomic and racial/ethnic lines.The achievement gap is a complex issue with many causes. It is propelled by factors that exist within the K-12 school system, the home, and post high school. The gaps in these groups show that only a select group of Americans are performing at high levels and that there is a clear pattern to who performs highly and who doesn’t. In this essay, the causes of this gap will be explained and discussed. As well as possible and practical solutions.
Causes from inside the home.
Of the multiple causes of the achievement gap that stem from the home, the first one I’d like to focus on is health and health care challenges. The state of one’s health permeates every aspect of individual lives and every aspect of society, so it comes as no surprise, that subpar health and healthcare greatly contributes to the widening achievement gap in this country. Two different health problems that greatly contribute to the widening health gap are low birth weights of children and childhood obesity. Also discussed here is how the general lack of consistent and quality health care makes the most vulnerable students even more vulnerable. In addition to health concerns familial and cultural factors will also be discussed in this first section of the paper.
Low birth weight
Infants born with low birth weights (under 5 pounds 8 ounces) are at a high risk of impaired cognitive development (Barton, 2004, p. 8). They can also suffer from attention problems, which can impact their performance at school(Aarnoudse-Moens, C. S., Weisglas-Kuperus, N., Van, J. B., & Oosterlaan, J., 2009 ). When children already have deficits in their cognitive development, no matter how hard they try in school, and no matter what their parents or teachers do to support them in school, they will never be able to perform at the level that they would have performed at had they not had these deficits. Infants with low birth weights are more likely to be born to, moms with chronic illnesses like high blood pressure and diabetes (March of Dimes, 2014, p11). Black women more likely than any other woman to experience these health challenges, meaning that black infants are more likely than others to be born with a low birth weight, causing these intellectual deficits. (Mayo Clinic, 2017)
Another example of how poor healthcare and health related issues can lead to/have led to the achievement gap is in the form of health related absenteeism. Absenteeism is one of the worst things for a student who wants to succeed in their education. Research shows that missing only 10 percent of school days(commonly referred to as chronically absent) whether the absences are excused or unexcused negatively affects school performance. (10 facts, 2013). In The Importance of Being in School: A Report on Absenteeism in the Nation’s Public Schools, Robert Balfanz, and Vaughan Byrnes detail the havoc that missing school can wreak. In their report, this was said “ Achievement, especially in math, is very sensitive to attendance, and absence of even two weeks during one school year matters. Attendance also strongly affects standardized test scores and graduation and dropout rates. Educators and policymakers cannot truly understand achievement gaps or efforts to close them without considering chronic absenteeism.” (new every 1 graduates 2013 ). Students whose parents are less affluent often miss more school for many reasons but particularly health reasons. Children who live in poverty often suffer from asthma more than their richer counterparts. This is usually because they don’t have access to the nutritional food that children of richer adults do, as well as the fact that they are most likely exposed to air that is of a lower quality; both of which can either cause or exacerbate the condition. When those same children do have asthma, it can be more difficult for them to receive the proper care, whether that is because they don’t have health insurance or their parents simply can’t take off of work in order to take them. When asthma is not treated it manifests itself in the form of coughing, shortness of breath and tightness of chest (Asthma Attack, 2014) AKA common symptoms that would cause either children to want to stay home from school, or parents to want to keep their kids home from school.
A difference in parenting styles
The achievement gap also has causes that are more familial and cultural (even if they do still ultimately stem from economic troubles). Differences in parenting styles can affect the achievement gap. Often African American and Hispanic families, as well as poor families, employ the “natural growth” parenting style. It emphasizes free-play, discipline, and hierarchy. They interact less with their children than more affluent parents. Richer parents are more likely to read to their kids, sing to their kids and play with their kids than parents who make less money. Although these things may seem trivial, that time spent with children is critical to their academic success. One study of language acquisition showed that, by age 3, the children of professionals had vocabularies of about 1,100 words; those of parents on welfare had mastered only 525 words. The difference was reflected in IQ scores: an average of 117 for the first group, and 79 for the second(Ireland, C., 2007). When one group of children have a lower IQ score than another whole group it should reflect in their achievement. Although there can be outliers; children with lower IQs outperforming children with higher IQs and vice versa, on average there has to be an achievement gap.
Often, when discussions about the achievement gap, its causes, and its solutions take place, many try to place the blame solely on the (public) school system. As we’ve seen from the evidence earlier, there are multiple factors that take place outside of the school system that contribute to the achievement gap. To some, the earlier mentioned differences in IQ could look inherent to different races, and not purely environment based. The health of the parents and of the children, education and work status of the parents all contribute to the achievement gap.
Intraschool causes of the achievement gap
There are also many causes of the achievement gap that takes place in the K-12 school system. These include academic track programs in school and bias in the teachers.
Factors that have to do with college
The achievement gap is a wide-reaching problem with a wide variety of causes. This section will focus on causes that take place post the k-12 school system. Different causes include racial bias in the doling out of scholarships and financial aid. Another one of the causes is anti-black and anti-latino hiring practices.
One way that the achievement gap is perpetrated outside of the K-12 school system and the home life is through bias in the allocation of scholarships and grants for college. White students ( who make up 61.8 percent of all students) receive 75.6 percent of merit grants (academic and other types) While minority students receive only 24.3 percent. According to Kantrowitz, these grants are often awarded to students by semi-selective colleges as a “form of financial aid leveraging,”(https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2011/09/06/merit_based_and_private_scholarships_disproportionately_favor_white_students) to dazzle middle- and upper-class applicants who can pay sizable portions of their tuition “A full-pay student — even with a significant discount in the form of a merit-based grant — still yields more net revenue to the college than low or moderate-income students,” he writes. This bias in scholarship allocation can greatly impact the achievement gap simply because on average people who don’t go to college usually achieve less than that college-educated counterparts. People with bachelor’s degrees, earn vastly more than counterparts with some college ($1.55 million/lifetime earnings) or a high school diploma ($1.30 million/ lifetime) simply earning a four-year degree is often integral to financial success later in life. When minority students are kept from college due to missing out on scholarships, it gravely impacts how much money they’ll make in their lifetime which will manifest itself in the achievement gap.(https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2011/08/05/how-higher-education-affects-lifetime-salary) The Georgetown Center for Education and Workforce director said “It’s still true that, on average, it’s better to get the higher degree”
Racist Hiring Practices
Yet another cause of the achievement gap is racist hiring policies. Black and latinx candidates often receive fewer job callbacks than their white counterparts regardless of their preparedness for the job. Having fewer job offers usually translates into less leverage when arguing for a wage which translates to lower wages for them if they do get the job. As seen in table one, whether or not the different racial groups went to college, a large gap still exists in income between the different racial groups. In table 2 you can see the same type of gap between different races in net worth in both college graduates and noncollege graduates.
The achievement gap is not by any means a solutionless problem. Although the solutions vary in terms of practicality and helpfulness, any combination of these problems is sure to help. Teach parents how to better help- sing to them, read with them, try your best to feed them healthy food. If parents are taught to do these things, they can help give their children a head start even before they start school. Another partial solution would be to do away with track programs in school- this will help with self-esteem, and hopefully, keep teachers expectations equally high of every student. In order to help fend off health-related cause of the achievement gap having a national health care -children will have lower absentee rates-increasing in better grades and test scores and a greater chance at going to college and succeeding in college. And one final way to help end the achievement gap—make a way for everybody to go to college.
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