Mind the Gap: 5 Lessons I've learned about the Achievement Gap

 Otto Katt - Second Year Teaching Fellow - Irving Middle School Roslindale, MA


Anyone who has traveled the London Underground has heard that refrain. And in the work that I do, I too must “Mind the Gap.” I'm not talking about the gap between the platform and the subway car, no, I'm referring to the  achievement gap - that widening chasm of achievement that separates the educational success of students from primarily suburban areas and higher socio-economic backgrounds, from their peers who are chiefly minorities from urban and rural areas and lower socio-economic backgrounds. It’s a touchy subject that some people choose to ignore, others say is implacable and un-closable, and I say is a reality that presents more challenges and obstacles than solutions. But there are solutions.

I was always somewhat aware of the gap. And after a year working in a school deemed failing, where 85% of students are eligible for both free and discounted lunch (a common indicator of the economic background of a school’s population) I’ve learned a few things about the gap:

1. The gap’s effects start early, by middle school it is possible using attendance, behavior issues, and grades to predict with devastating accuracy whether a student will graduate from high school.

2. Students are aware of the gap and they aren’t afraid to talk about it. Pretending that their educational path isn’t fraught with difficulties and challenges is demeaning and makes you lose credibility fast.

3. It is possible to make a change. Real, honest, and at times incremental, but long lasting change.

4. Minding the gap is hard. There are cultural, social, economic structures and trends that no amount of money, effort, blood, sweat, and tears is going to erase overnight.

5. Students want to erase the gap more than all the pundits, talking heads, policy wonks, and activists clamouring on TV and the blogosphere want. It’s their lives and futures at stake.

That’s my birds-eye take on the gap. I don’t have any magic bullets, or cure-alls. Just limited experience, a desire to make a difference, and evidence that it is possible to close that gap. I want to say that one day the gap will be closed.  I know that there is work that I can do to help students escape its effects, and so I will continue to “MIND THE GAP”.

What lessons have you learned from 'minding the gap'? Share your thoughts.