Shrinking the Achievement GAP
Research suggests two key, non-academic factors have the most significant impact on reducing the perplexing inequalities evident in the achievement gap.
By William Jeynes
OVER THE LAST FIFTY-FIVE YEARS, one of the most persistent debates in schooling has been on how to close the achievement gap between white students on the one hand and African American and Latino students on the other hand (Green, 2001; Tatum, 2005). This achievement gap exists in virtually every scholastic measure of progress, including standardized tests, GPA, and the dropout rate (Jeynes, 2015; Olneck, 2005). Olneck (2005, p. 95) notes that by the “eighth grade” the achievement gap is usually “about two years.”
The United States was founded on the principle of equality. Hence, the obdurate nature of the difference in academic outcomes that exists between students of certain races of color and white students, as well as those of low- versus high- socioeconomic status (SES), has been of considerable concern to educators and the American public (Green, 2001; Tatum, 2005).
Ronald Roach (2001, p. 377) declared that, “in the academic and think tank world, pondering achievement gap remedies takes center stage.”
The amount of attention and money that the United States has given to reducing the achievement gap over the last half century is greater than the amount given for any other education issue (Haycock, 2001; Jeynes, 2007; McKenzie, 2008). Sadly, despite some reduction in the gap in the late 1970s and during the 1980s, the gap has stubbornly remained about the same since then. The reality is that with all the countless billions of dollars that have been spent by the government to address the issue, these efforts, although well-meaning, have apparently not worked.
As someone who was raised and later worked in some very distressed sections of New York City, I have always been interested in reducing the achievement gap. This desire to improve the educational outcomes of low- SES youth and those of color led me to conduct a meta-analysis to determine what factors and their related actions could best bridge this achievement gap.
Meta-analyses are probably the single most popular type of academic article, because they enable people to grasp what the overall body of research indicates on a given topic. They statistically combine all of the relevant existing studies on a given subject in order to determine the aggregated results of said research. My meta- analysis was specifically designed to enable social scientists to conclude which approaches to alleviating the achievement gap would be the most productive and the most efficacious.
RESULTS OF THE STUDY
The results of the meta-analysis provided a lot of insight, particularly because they indicated that the common approaches the government and other agencies take toward addressing the achievement gap are not at all similar to the factors proven to be most associated with reducing the gaps.
For example, religious faith (specifically Christianity), proved to have the highest impact for reducing the achievement gap. Essentially, if a youth was religious, the achievement gap was cut in half.
Family structure earned a second place ranking. My analysis showed that if students lived in homes with intact families (two biological parents residing with the student), then the achievement gap was also profoundly reduced.
Perhaps most interestingly, when the two factors were combined (if low SES children of color were religious and came from intact families), the achievement gap totally disappeared.
But, sadly, some would describe pointing to faith and family as some of the foremost factors that help the most in bridging scholastic gaps by race and socioeconomic status as unacceptable or politically incorrect.
However, even the College Board, the organization which makes the SAT, found evidence pointing to faith and family as some of the foremost factors that help the most in bridging scholastic gaps by race and socioeconomic status. They conducted a statistically-based investigation of why average SAT scores plummeted 17 consecutive years from 1963-1980. The findings indicated that while some of the decline can be attributed to demographic factors, most of the drop in scores in the 1960s and 1970s was due to real academic change. The report concluded that among the variables producing this real academic change, the decline of the family and a growing departure from Judeo-Christian values were among the most impactful trends (Jeynes, 2007; Wirtz, 1977).
It is enlightening to realize that 1963 was a very significant year in American history. That was precisely the year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that public schools must be secular, thus stopping the devotional use of the Bible and forced prayer in our public schools. That is also the year that divorce rates, after being in slight but steady decline from 1948-1962 started surging and rose for 17 consecutive years. How interesting it is, that concurrent with the 17 consecutive year decrease in SAT scores from 1963 until 1980, the divorce rate soared during exactly the same period (Jeynes, 2007). Coincidence? Many would conclude to the contrary.
IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS FOR EDUCATORS
This research is so powerful that after these results were first published, I received a call from a person connected to the White House that declared, “The White House needs to hear about this!” The next thing I knew, I was invited to speak at the “White House Education Summit” that President Bush announced in his 2008 State of the Union address. I ended up speaking several times each for the Bush and Obama administrations, as well as for former members of the Clinton administration.
Thankfully, many government leaders are beginning to realize that they need to rethink this nation’s strategy regarding the reduction of the achievement gap. While this is truly a divinely inspired trend, it will have little impact unless Christian educators also become more aware of just how puissant faith and family factors are with regard to eliminating the achievement gap. Moreover, it is only sensible that Christian teachers should be among the first educators to act on these facts.
Knowing this, what can Christian educators do to help shrink the achievement gap?
The activities that I list below naturally apply to all students, but they are often particularly important in helping those students who, for a variety of reasons, are personally on the bottom of the achievement gap.
Gather with Other Christian Educators in Your School
➤ form prayer groups with other Christian educators and pray for each other
➤ start a LIFT group in your school
➤ contact CEAI to bring a LIFT America event to your area
Support Christian Students
➤ join students in student-led Christian activities such as See You at the Pole
➤ express that students are free to choose Biblical people or principles as topics for writing assignments, speeches, or research when appropriate
➤ reward students when you see them living out Biblical principles in the schools
➤ pray for students
➤ adopt character education curriculums
➤ introduce Bible as Literature class to your district (A growing number of state governments [eleven] have passed laws to allow the Bible as Literature to be taught as an elective in public high schools. The class is offered during school every school day for either one or two years, depending on the state. In the states that offer the class for two years, one year of instruction is given in the Old Testament and the second year is given in the New Testament. The students receive 6-12 units of credit toward graduation, depending on whether they take the course for one or two years.)
Start Evangelical Before & After-School Programs
➤ lead or participate in after school activities such as Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Young Life, or a Good News Club
➤ form church-school partnerships with local churches
➤ sponsor All Pro Dad events
➤ plan My favorite Guy father-daughter and My favorite Gal mother-son dances/activities
➤ offer parenting classes or seminars
➤ work closely with Parent Teacher Organizations
➤ partner with parent organizations such as Moms in Prayer to pray for your school
William Jeynes is a Senior Fellow at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, NJ. He is also a Professor of Education at California State University in Long Beach, CA. He graduated first in his class at Harvard University. He has served as a government advisor for the US, EU, and other nations in Europe and Asia. He is the author of several books. His most recent book, The Wiley Handbook of Christianity and Education, is available for preorder on Amazon.com and other sites.
Awesome. Our work in Columbia, SC is proving this and more. Specifically, the need for disciples in education. So excited to read this article as I often pray for those who have been given a similar charge to welcome God back to public schools and to take back the land. After all, God did say “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).
Actually, I have just retired from teaching middle school for 33 years. Had to leave a few years early because of tremendous pressure for student performance from administrators and abyssmal support with discipline problems.
This article does not mention anything new concerning true causes for the ‘achievement gap’-causes which public education refuses to believe. Instead, unbelievable pressure is put on educators to magically bring these kids up to speed. Simply mentioning the true problems
Is very politically incorrect and not tolerated. Faith, family, responsibility as true causes of the gap are considered racist. Remember the recent FL school shooting? It exposed the unholy alliance between school systems and sheriff departments INTENTIONALLY ignoring arrestable offenses in order to reduce % of minority incidences. Personally, in my system teachers were strongly discouraged disciplining minorities AT ALL- office referrals, detention, etc. This does nothing to solve the problem.
My friends and I prayed a lot while working in our school and only God knows how truly broken the System is in so many ways.