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Are You in a Pickle?: Lessons Learned Along the Way: Students' Performance and Achievement Gaps

Are You in a Pickle?: Lessons Learned Along the Way: Students' Performance and Achievement Gaps

by Patricia L. Pickles Ph. D.

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Patricia L. Pickles, Ph.D. is a native of Illinois and the mother of one daughter, one son and four grandchildren. She is currently retired from the public school system but runs her own consulting company, A+ Standards of Excellence and Equity in Education.

Dr. Pickles enjoys giving back to the community, closing achievement gaps, swimming, traveling, reading


Patricia L. Pickles, Ph.D. is a native of Illinois and the mother of one daughter, one son and four grandchildren. She is currently retired from the public school system but runs her own consulting company, A+ Standards of Excellence and Equity in Education.

Dr. Pickles enjoys giving back to the community, closing achievement gaps, swimming, traveling, reading and spending time with family and friends.

Now that the author drives her own company and priorities, she finally found the time to speak out through her writing. She shares her stories and how to strategies for improving students' performance and closing achievement gaps. She talks candidly about lessons learned in education and leadership that you won't get from a regular textbook. Readers are encouraged to persevere through challenges, barriers and setbacks. Future suggestions for education are provided.

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Are You In a Pickle?

Lessons Learned Along The Way: Students' Performance And Achievement Gaps
By Patricia L. Pickles


Copyright © 2012 Patricia L. Pickles
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4567-9658-7

Chapter One


"Reflect on the past, act on the present, and embrace the future." —Bill Dempsey Former Executive Vice President Abbott Laboratories

The information presented in this chapter is not intended to be comprehensive or detailed, but rather to provide a backdrop for current conditions, challenges, and opportunities. It is important to remember how we got to where we are. Knowing the hurdles and struggles that we have overcome leads to pride.

Evidence over time indicates that some students, schools, and communities continue to far exceed their counterparts. We all have our theories, research and opinions. As laid out in the pages of this chapter, history is less a matter of argument and more a matter of record. History defines our rights, but we determine our freedom.

Chapter Objectives

• Look at landmark studies related to student performance and achievement gaps.

• Help put current conditions, challenges and opportunities into perspective.

• Reflect on education policy from the past as a reference for making recommendations for the future.

According to President Obama, "As we raise the standards for today's workforce, we must consider, the percentage of young adults getting bachelor's degrees has risen steadily each decade, from around 16 percent in 1980 to almost 33 percent in 2009. At this defining moment in our history, preparing our children to compete in the global economy is one of the most urgent challenges we face" (Sam Dillion, The New York Times, January 31, 2010). As Arnie Duncan, Secretary of Education, proposes sweeping changes to the NCLB Act, he admits, "We can't sweep those huge disparities with outcomes between white children and Latino children and African American children under the rug ever again" (Sam Dillion, The New York Times, January 31, 2010).

The intent of this chapter is to serve as a reference point for what our leaders are saying today versus what has been said and done in the past. Our past has important lessons to offer. We are more likely to be successful if we continue to access lessons learned. Have you personally gained insight from reflecting on past events?

Historically, government has been involved ineducation, policy,, and cultural transformation. Therefore, the anxiety and debate that surround the issue of improving student performance and education reform are not new. Achieving excellence in education, as it relates to the strength of our nation, will always be a critical conversation and require ongoing debate. Education is the pipeline that directly impacts workforce development, competitive globalization, and self-actualization.

Under the leadership of Abraham Lincoln, our sixteenth president, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) was created on March 3, 1863. Today members of NAS serve as advisors to the nation on matters involving science, engineering, and medicine.

The Civil War ended on May 26, 1865, and it led to the Thirteenth Amendment. The Thirteenth Amendment confirmed and expanded the executive order, known as the Emancipation Proclamation, that freed the slaves, but the educational system was not addressed in the amendment.

As one of the Reconstruction Amendments, in 1868, The Fourteenth Amendment was adopted in 1868 and one of the Reconstruction Amendments. The citizenship clause in this amendment overruled the decision in the Dred Scott case (Scott v. Sandford, 1857), which held that slaves could not be citizens of the United States.

At the dawn of the twentieth century, Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) made provisions for the "separate but equal" doctrine. For more than half a century in the field of public education, this doctrine was argued in the courts; during this same era, the government instated free and mandatory public high schools.

In his 1933 book, The Mis-Education of the Negro, Carter G. Woodson said, "Negroes go to one-room rented hovels to be taught without equipment and by incompetent teachers educated scarcely beyond the eighth grade" (p. 4). He further stated that "Thousands and thousands of Negro children in this country are not permitted to use school books in which are printed the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution of the United States" (p. 830).

In 1949, W.E.B. Du Bois insisted, "Of all the civil rights for which the world has struggled and fought for 5,000 years, the right to learn is undoubtedly the most fundamental" (p. 230-231).

Brown v. Board of Education (1954) determined that minority children were being deprived of equal educational opportunities. In the eleven years following the Brown decision, more than 38,000 black teachers and administrators in seventeen southern and border states lost their jobs (Toppo 2004). Those who were able to secure employment found themselves as subordinates and no longer in administrative leadership positions.

The launch of the Sputnik satellite into space (1957) revealed that the United States was losing scientific and technological ground to its Soviet rival. This raised concerns that the Soviet school system was superior to America's. While schools were still segregated President Eisenhower directed educational reforms in science and engineering. Although there are countries, such as China, with larger populations, America has always been innovative, competitive, and a force to be reckoned with.

Brown v. Board of Education was a landmark decision in moving toward integration, but it did not impact institutional segregation to the greatest extent possible. In 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which sought to end racial segregation in schools and ensure equal rights for all citizens, including providing equal educational opportunity in all public schools. It was ordered that all students receive equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. In 1965, as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson's "War on Poverty" and in response to President Kennedy's influence, Congress enacted the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Equal access to education and improving the educational system for all students became national priorities.

In conjunction with ESEA, Congress funded a national investigation utilizing the so-called "Equal Education Opportunity Survey." The United States Commissioner of Education, Francis Keppel, entrusted the investigation to a team headed by James S. Coleman of Johns Hopkins University. The objective of the study was to investigate the "separate but equal" premise in public school education by assessing the distribution of educational resources by race. Some 570,000 pupils were tested, 60,000 teachers questioned, and 4,000 schools surveyed for information concerning facilities. Coleman et. al. (1966) reported that the highest percentage of failures, especially among twelfth-grade students, existed among minority groups, particularly black students, and those from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Physical facilities, formal curricula, and teacher characteristics, according to Coleman, had little influence on achievement. The results from this study, for the most part, received widespread public acceptance; however, the results were detrimental to advancing educational equality for poor and minority students (Mace- Matluck 1986).

Analysis of the survey results was provided in the Coleman Report (1966). The intent of the report was to legitimize why some students are successful in school settings while others are not. Results from the Equal Education Opportunity Survey indicated that student performance and achievement are directly related to the students' family backgrounds and conditions outside the control of the school. Thus, in terms of student performance, the report concluded that conditions within public schools do not make a significant difference.

Schools bring little influence to bear on a child's achievement that is independent of his background and general social contexts ... This very lack of an independent effect means that the inequalities imposed on children by their home, neighborhood, and peer environment are carried along to become the inequalities with which they confront adult life at the end of school. For equality of educational opportunity through the schools must imply a strong effect of schools that is independent of the child's immediate social environment, and that strong independent effect is not present in American schools. (Coleman et al., 1966, 325)

Jencks (1972) and a group of Harvard specialists supported the Coleman findings. These investigators concluded that student performance is directly tied to the income level, social class, neighborhood, and home environment of the student. "We cannot blame economic inequality on differences between schools, since differences between schools seem to have little effect on any measurable attribute of those who attend them" (Jencks et al., 1972, p.8)

Achievement scores generally distribute themselves according to socioeconomic status and race. In America, do our value system and social order dictate a racial class system that is perpetuated through the schools? Other researchers acknowledge that family background contributes to student achievement levels but disagree with the assumption that family background will determine the child's ability to learn (Edmonds 1979; Marron 1982; Runnels 1984; Weber 1971). Further, some researchers responded vigorously to the findings of Coleman and Jencks. Ronald Edmonds, director of the Center for Urban Studies at Harvard University, Lezzotte, Brookover, and others, conducted a "Search for Effective Schools." They found schools with low-income students who achieved at the level of their middle-class peers; these schools were considered to be effective. Although they acknowledged that family background was important, their findings revealed that if certain effective school correlates were in place, schools could be successful in educating all students. The effective school correlates identified included the following:

• the principal is a strong instructional leader;

• there is a pervasive and broadly understood instructional focus;

• the school's climate is safe, orderly, and conducive to learning;

• teachers' and administrators' behaviors convey high expectations for all students; and

• student progress is measured and monitored on an ongoing basis.

A Nation at Risk was published in 1983. It presented the results of an eighteen-month study that concentrated on secondary education. The report was produced by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, appointed by the Secretary of Education. The report declared that the educational foundations of American society were being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity, including tracking and a diluted curriculum that did not adequately prepare students for opportunities in scientific and technological fields and the world's market economy. Instead of a rigorous and relevant curriculum for all students, the norm was remedial and developmental courses, low expectations, and lack of quality time engaged in meaningful learning. The report stimulated new interest in the quality and competency of public school administrators, particularly the chief executive officer.

The Coleman report offered a deficit model, and the Effective Schools study reflected a resilience or empowerment model. The deficit model assumes that some students—because of environment, socioeconomic status, lack of intelligence, or genetic, cultural or experiential differences—are inferior to other students, and their home and community obstacles are too substantial to overcome. On the other hand, the empowerment model places more emphasis on the school environment and factors that are in the school's control during the school day. With research supporting both models, there was a decision to be made about which road map to follow.

During the Clinton administration, the Goals 2000: Educate America Act was signed into law (1994). The law was based on the premise that students will reach higher levels of achievement when more is expected of them. Thus, a framework was developed to identify world-class academic standards, to measure student progress, and to provide the support that students need to meet standards. During this time, there was also a push to infuse technology into all educational programs, and it became clear that, although some families had the ability to include technology in the home, others did not. This led to a digital divide among students and inquiries about how to close the divide.

The Obey-Porter Comprehensive School Reform legislation of 1997 highlighted twenty research-based comprehensive school reform models. Rather than viewing school improvement efforts in isolation, Obey-Porter created a federal bipartisan educational policy that approached school improvement as a holistic process. In other words, rather than just looking at a math program or a reading program in isolation, there was increased focus on systemic change and the entire educational environment.

In 1997, school-based after-school programs became a federal priority. Buried in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was language that basically kept schools open to serve the community. In 2002, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) were reauthorized as part of the No Child Left Behind Act, and the focus shifted to after-school programs for students.

Under CCLC grants, schools offered a variety of after-school programs that focused on reading, math, enrichment, technology, science, homework, tutoring, read-aloud, study skills, research, art, music, counseling, character education, and drug and violence prevention programs. Another change was that CCLC became competitive and was open not only to public schools but to private schools and other public entities. Faith-based organizations, community-based groups, and other public-sector organizations such as parks and recreation became involved in providing or supporting after- school programs. The third major change was that CCLC moved from the federal level to the state level. There are now approximately 8,900 CCLC programs across the country.

Congress had reauthorized ESEA several times since its initial passage in 1965. The 2002 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) changed the federal government's role in prekindergarten through twelfth-grade education by focusing on school success, as measured by student achievement test scores, test participation, high school completion rates, attendance, graduation rates, and the number of students deemed as college-ready. The NCLB education reform plan contained the most sweeping changes to ESEA ever enacted.

NCLB has a laser focus to propel the academic success of all students. When this reform agenda surfaced, it impacted the curricula, accountability system, and excellence movement throughout the country. As a result of its changes, the center of attention became closing the achievement gaps between whites and minorities and between the affluent and the poor, and providing increased focus on learning expectations for special needs students.

Synopsis of Events and Research Impacting Education

I have built a timeline to provide a journey through the history of education policy. Reflecting on the past does not mean living in the past, but the past should be used as a place of reference. 1776 - Thomas Jefferson, who became the third president, was the main author of the Declaration of Independence. In the 1700s, school schedules were built to accommodate farming.

• 1861 – 1865 American Civil War

• 1863 – President Abraham Lincoln incorporated the National Academy of Sciences to spur research in science and technology. In the 1800s, factory and railroad jobs were flourishing.

• 1865 – President Lincoln led the development of the Thirteenth Amendment which freed the slaves.

• 1868 – Ulysses S. Grant was president when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted, addressing citizenship and civil rights.

• 1896 – President Grover Cleveland made provisions for the Plessy v. Ferguson doctrine of "separate but equal."

• 1897 – National Congress of Mothers was formed.


Excerpted from Are You In a Pickle? by Patricia L. Pickles Copyright © 2012 by Patricia L. Pickles. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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