The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has identified thirty-five schools in the Commonwealth as underperforming. The determination was made based on chronically low math and English scores as well as low high school graduation numbers. This is a dramatic step for the Commonwealth as the competition for federal “Race to the Top” funds heats up.
The schools are located across the Commonwealth with twelve of the schools located in the city of Boston. The remaining schools are located in Fall River, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, New Bedford and Worcester.
Identified schools face a number of potential changes to turn around the difficulties that they are facing including expanding the school year, changing teacher and administrator contracts and asking staff to reapply for their positions. This announcement comes just a couple of weeks after news from Central Falls, RI revealed that due to chronically low test scores, every teacher, administrator and staff member at the high school would be removed from his or her job.
According to state lawmakers this is a genuine opportunity to see some tremendous growth in communities that have been struggling to make achievement gains. Lawmakers identify this as an opportunity for educators to get creative and try new tactics for reaching those students who have been “left behind”.
What’s missing from this conversation of bridging the achievement gap is where the parents fit. The chronically underperforming schools tend to be located in low-income communities where families struggle to make ends meet and are often not educated themselves. This is true for the list of schools above. Has anyone asked the parents what they are doing to help the students to make gains and bridge the achievement gap?
Students who are successful almost always come from homes that value education and make it a priority. These are families who are involved in their child’s life and education on a regular basis. This conversation about underperforming schools leaves out a crucial voice: families. Is it possible to make tremendous gains educationally if a major piece of the equation is missing altogether? Until the role of the parent is given more weight and consideration, and parents are required to take an active role in the education of their children, these circular conversations about how to bridge the achievement gap and turn around underperforming schools will continue. Schools, teachers and administrators are doing their part. The only unaccountable party at this point seems to be the family. That chair has been left empty at the table for far too long.