Can Achieve at High Levels"
Allan Alson Tells Superintendents at TC
"The achievement gap will be closed
when we can no longer predict achievement level by race," said
Allan Alson, Superintendent of the Evanston Township High School
in Illinois, and President of the Minority Student Achievement
The wiry, keen-eyed Dr. Alson, who sported
a dark, neatly trimmed beard, spoke recently in New York to
a rapt audience of his peers at the 63rd Annual Superintendents
Work Conference at Teachers College, Columbia University. The
focus of the event was "Closing the Achievement Gap." Although
the topic was serious, Dr. Alson was warmly received by his
fellows, who often laughed in recognition at some of their
shared experiences as he described how, after thirteen years
of rigorous effort in Evanston, he is having continuing success
closing the gap. Following are some excerpts from his talk:
"My first day as Superintendent I
said, 'The issue about achievement of students of color, minority
students, is most important and will stay strong as long as
I'm here.' Any one of my teachers now would say, 'This is goal
number one, we are expected to work on this issue.'"
"It didn't start out this way. I
had an older faculty. Both blacks and whites said 'Why do we
have to do this?' I had to talk about strategy, went to churches
and community groups a lot. I had to create forums where teachers
could learn this."
"I hope we're all off the statement
'All children can learn.' That equals minimum standards. 'All
children can achieve at high levels,' reveals the complexity
of what we do."
"There is such a thing as residual
racism, which leads to a lack of confidence, diminished resilience,
reduced motivation and engagement. Students of color tend to
come to school feeling inferior. We have to break through that.
We have to acknowledge what baggage they come to school with.
We do have to say we're sorry."
"Recently MSAN surveyed 41,000 Middle
and High School kids. Kids of color in a much more pronounced
way said they must have a closer relationship with teachers.
They said 'I don't care what you know until I know you care.'"
"Teacher expectations are really
critical. In a very explicit way teachers should say in the
classroom, 'I won't let you fail, and here's how I'm not going
to let you fail.' Teachers have to give explicit, timely, persistent feedback
on work, let them know what they have to do to succeed step
by step to goal, say, 'I'm here to tutor you, and I will direct
you to community resources to help you.'"
"We have a number of comprehensive
school reform programs:
"There is something called Summer
Setback. Kids in situations of poverty don't have the advantages
of others, who go to museums, travel in the summers. These
same kids are most likely to come to school with deficiencies.
Some gains made during the school year are lost in the summer.
How many teachers spend the first quarter of the year reviewing?
We've been using looping. I have classes of lower achieving
kids staying with the same teacher. This is making a huge difference.
The teacher knows every one of the kids, their learning styles,
parents, where they were in June."
"We are pushing hard to improve math
achievement. We got rid of consumer math, have a lot of double
period classes, smaller classes, booster classes. These seem
to be making a significant difference."
"We have whole school faculty groups.
Teachers are grouped who share the same kids, can confer about
individual kids, use data from test scores, grades, attendance,
create action plans about what they want to improve."
"Every department has a teacher released
from one class to give support to first year teachers. Second
year teachers have to take a course on understanding racism.
"We should treat kids as if they
are our own. When we make decisions, who's in front of us:
a picture of our own child, or somebody else's child? If it's
our own we're likely to make different sorts of decisions."#
For further information about the superintendents
conference and its 63-year history visit http://conference.tc.columbia.edu.