Achievement Gap Scholar Visits Columbia High School
Karin Chenoweth addressed administrators, teachers and students via CCN.
"You're one of the few people who ever asked that," said Karin Chenoweth in a televised interview with Columbia High School broadcaster Jalisa Carr that will appear on the Columbia Cable Network (CCN). Carr had asked if Chenoweth, a writer who has studied the achievement gap between African-American and white students extensively, had experienced the gap in her own education.
Chenoweth, who works for the Education Trust, was visiting the district on Thursday, January 14 at the invitation of the South Orange-Maplewood Education Association's Professional Development Committee. South Orange/Maplewood educators Suzanne Urban Ryan and Katie Simpson heard Chenoweth speak at a conference in Washington. Convinced that her message was relevant to this community, they invited her to Columbia High. This is Chenoweth's second visit to the district.
As author of the books "It's Being Done" and "How It's Being Done," Chenoweth has studied schools that have minimized the achievement gap. In speaking with Carr, Chenoweth defined the gap as, "a difference in proficiency rates between students of different groups." Historically, those groups that have been studied are white students, African-American students, and Latino students.
Chenoweth recalled that she had, indeed, experienced an achievement gap, though hers wasn't based on race or economic status. After seventh grade, when she was in track 7B, she was dropped to 8C. "I remember that the seventh grade teacher taught us how to punctuate footnotes, because that was what we would need in college. In eighth grade, teachers taught to the kids in the front. They told us, 'You're not going to college anyway.' "
The story illustrates both a problem and a solution that Chenoweth has studied around the nation. As she told the CCN students and, later, an audience of teachers, adult attitudes are key to student success.
Chenoweth has seen schools solve the problem, when "staff are determined to eliminate the achievement gap." She emphasized the enormous role adults in the school community have on student behavior, both in and out of the classroom.
In reply to Carr's question, Chenoweth said that believes that "students are students," and it's not simply their own attitudes that predict success or failure. When she visits schools, her preference is to find students who have transferred from another school, which gives them points of comparison.
From 1999 to 2004, Chenoweth wrote a column on schools and education for The Washington Post, and before that was senior writer and executive editor of Black Issues in Higher Education. The title of her address -- also the title of her most recent book -- was "How It's Being Done: Urgent Lessons from Unexpected Schools."
Ryan, who teaches fifth grade at Jefferson School, was delighted with the visit, which also included a session with administrators earlier in the day. "The Education Association is very interested in getting to the heart of the issue and truly making it happen here," said Ryan. She purchased copies of Chenoweth's books, which were provided by Words Bookstore.
A term Chenoweth uses for solving the problem is "zapping the gap." She feels that's vital and urgent business for this country. She explained to the student audience that great progress was made after the inception of Title I and in the early years of desegregation. In 1988, for reasons that aren't entirely clear, national progress slowed. Chenoweth sees signs of change, however, in data from the last few years.
As to how it matters on a day-to-day basis in schools, Chenoweth spoke to Carr and the CHS viewing audience. "It's not just about going to college,"she said "It's about having a productive life."