A panel of education experts offered insight into the best ways to combat the achievement gap in Madison Metropolitan School District at a community event held Monday.
The Department of Educational Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin hosted a panel discussion on the topic, worked to define the achievement gap in Madison and explored various options for fixing the problem.
UW professor of educational policy studies Harry Brighouse said the definition of the achievement gap in the U.S. has changed since the 1950s from a racially-based achievement gap to an income-based achievement gap.
“We’ve become more social segregated as we’ve gotten more racially integrated,” Brighouse said. “It is not a surprise that higher incomes are closely related to educational success. Money makes a huge difference.”
Brighouse said a high income allows parents to “buy into” better school districts, spend more on tutoring and avoid large amounts of “poisonous stress” that lower income people have to deal with.
At a societal level, Brighouse was pessimistic about the U.S. and its commitment to address large scale solutions to the problem but said there are several things districts could do to solve the problems of the gap.
“You can lengthen the school day and the school year,” Brighouse said. “The prime time for juvenile delinquency is between the hours of three and five in the afternoon. Schools can sometimes feel like prisons, but it’s better to be in them than out of them committing crimes.”
However, Gloria Ladson-Billings, UW educational policy studies professor, was skeptical of “technocratic responses” such as making the school year or school day longer because if the students have a poor quality teacher or school, the longer day will not make a difference.
Ladson-Billings added closing the gap was less about the students and more about the system.
Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Daniel Nerad released an 109-page plan, titled “Building Our Future: The Preliminary Plan for Eliminating Gaps in MMSD Student Achievement,” two months ago to combat the achievement gap in the district.
The plan calls for spending $12.4 million next year on a new and existing strategies. The plan recommends adding an extra early morning class period for struggling students and developing an early warning system to identify such students.