CLOSING THE ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT GAP WITH COMMON CORE

 

Arkansas is a state rich in natural resources and kind, creative people.  However, we are also one of the most impoverished states in the union.  Even in the wealthiest corners of our state, there exists an academic achievement gap between poor children and their middle class counterparts.  Members of the Arkansas Commission on Closing the Academic Achievement Gap are working to find and enact system change to address this problem. The philosophy of the Commission is to “ensure that all children have an opportunity for an education that will focus on equity as a means to achieve a closure in scores between and among diverse learning communities of students.”  The Common Core State Standards provide a structure which supports students from poverty and helps to close the academic achievement gap.  

Students who are raised in poverty are not disabled, but come to school with distinct disadvantages. Ruby Payne’s research on poverty states that kindergarten children come to school with one half of the listening and speaking vocabulary that other classmates possess and that children in poverty have a huge deficit in the area of background knowledge.  Robert Marzano’s work states that what works in schools for struggling students and students from poverty is direct instruction in vocabulary and providing background knowledge.  The Common Core English Language Arts standards promote both rich vocabulary instruction and paired fiction with related nonfiction texts.   This pairing of texts provide background knowledge to the reader where no prior knowledge exists.  All students can discuss the text and provide evidence for their arguments from “right-there” texts.  

The research of Marzano and Payne also suggest that instructional strategies such as cooperative learning structures, thematic, integrated approaches, and work with peers also support learners from poverty.  The Common Core ELA standards have these structures built in to the text.  One of the fifth grade Common Core standards directs students to “engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 5 topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.”  My students now love to engage in collaborative discussions over text.  Recently, my students read The Trial by Jen Bryant about the 1930’s kidnapping and murder trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann.  After we read Bryant’s historical fiction book, the students read actual court documents from the trial.  In the past, I would have a hard time getting my students to read such dry nonfiction court documents, but because they are paired with strong fiction, both texts are much more interesting.  My students were intensely searching both texts for evidence to support their stance on Hauptmann’s guilt or innocence, and they used their evidence to participate in a rich class discussion and debate.   

The new standards are rigorous; much like what AP students have always received.  Having taught both AP and regular education classes, I have always known that my regular students - especially those students from poverty-  would benefit from the more stimulating instruction the AP curriculum provided. The new standards are more challenging for all students, but at the same time provide a structure to support my students from poverty.  The Common Core Standards better prepare all students not just for readiness, but for success in a career or college.

Resources:

Common Core Shifts for English Language Arts/Literacy from http://achievethecore.org/content/upload/122113_Shifts.pdf

Common Core Standards http://www.corestandards.org/

Marzano, Robert J. What Works in Schools : Translating Research into Action. Alexandria: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development, 2003. Print.

Payne, Ruby K. "A Framework for Understanding Poverty." Www.ahaprocess.com. Aha! Process, Inc., 2005. Web. 25 Mar. 2014.