Opposite Worlds, Same State: Closing the Achievement Gap Between Inner City and Affluent Children

I believe that people, whether you are black or white, want the same things; love and respect. Love that is expressed thru kindness, listening, openness, understanding, and guidance. Respect that’s expressed thru welcoming another’s healthy values.

These definitions of kindness and respect allow people to be curious instead of fearful of people who are different. Reading the book “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria” by Beverly Daniel Tatum offered a window into an experience that I will never have because I am a white, American woman. Her book, in part discusses, the experiences of black children in the United States public school system. Namely, Boston Public School’s METCO program in Massachusetts.

“The METCO (Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity) Program is a grant program funded by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It is a voluntary program intended to expand educational opportunities, increase diversity, and reduce racial isolation, by permitting students in certain cities to attend public schools in other communities that have agreed to participate.” (Mass.gov website)

“METCO has been in existence since 1966 and was originally funded through a grant by the Carnegie Foundation and United States Office of Education. In that year the first METCO legislation was filed, METCO Inc. was established, and seven school districts began accepting the first two hundred METCO students. Currently, there are about 3,300 students participating in 38 school districts in metropolitan Boston and at four school districts outside Springfield.” (Mass.gov website)

Wikipedia adds, “the program is the longest continuously running voluntary school desegregation program in the country and a national model for the few other voluntary desegregation busing programs currently in existence.”

On the ground, Kindergarten thru high school age children climb into school buses in their inner-city Boston neighborhoods in the early morning. Most of the children ride a half hour or more to a world of single family homes on tree lined streets and an abundance of white faces. For many METCO children, white suburbia is a culture that is noticeably different than their daily life experiences. The METCO kids, as they may be referred to, have an opportunity for a better education with the promise that creates. Most significantly, they are part of a safer school community.

The children and families participating in METCO have positive and negative experiences. The children create beneficial life-long friendships and connections. They receive educational and personal support daily from a district rich in resources. While there is much good to be gained being bussed to an educationally sound district there is also the negative. The negative stories of racism, ignorance, the profound adjustment to a different culture, and the effects of exhaustion due to the long days.

This program means no ill will. It was intended to close the achievement gap between affluent neighborhood school children and inner-city school children. School administrators didn’t see the gap close. The question is why and what is the solution.

In education, there is a foundation of academic study called background knowledge. As learners, whether we are adults, children, black, white, poor, or rich we bring background knowledge to our learning community. The more background knowledge we have or the more in line our background knowledge is to the teacher’s the more successful we can be as a learner. Since the background knowledge of an inner-city child is different than the background knowledge of affluent school district learners this discrepancy could be a factor in why the achievement gap wasn’t closing.

Another factor needing consideration to close the achievement gap is the exhaustion level of a child who may leave their Boston neighborhood at 6 or 6:30 in the morning and return home 10 or 12 hours later. Exhaustion can negatively impact focus, memory, effective written and/or verbal communication. Making it difficult or near impossible for a young child or teenager to be physically and mentally available to learn.

The amount of background knowledge and the effects of exhaustion are only two examples of many possible factors that slow or stall learning.

Along the process of identifying and analyzing possible sources of the achievement gap, in some school’s support groups. The goal of the group was to create a space where the METCO students could speak and listen to other METCO students. Sharing their problems, struggles, experiences, and feelings as a member of the school community. The meetings gave the children an opportunity to process their experience, ask questions of adults assigned to the group, vent, and/or explore their feelings of being an inner-city child in a white suburban community.

While researching the many aspects of teaching and learning and implementing policy to close the achievement gap is vital. The small group meetings where the simple act of sharing, being heard and seen, and discovering you aren’t alone in your experience made a positive difference. It improved their schoolwork. The achievement gap still exists. Educators continue to explore methods to close the gap. But for some children, whose school day takes place in a different culture, they are being seen and heard. This has made a difference.

 

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