Monday, March 5, 2012

Gangs and Achievement Gap Have NO Connection

At least, that's the only conclusion one can draw, if you take Tacoma Schools leadership thinking seriously.

The Achievement Gap report (prepared by an outside consultant a couple of years ago) says,

The Advisory Committee found that the achievement gap for African American students is caused primarily by:
Inequitable distribution of skilled and experienced teachers  (page 13)

(Note:  The Achievement Gap report has much less to say about the Hispanic achievement gap than it does the African-American gap.)

To make sure we understand that it's teachers and not parents who need to be fixed, on page 14 the report observes

Supportive parents are hugely important, of course, but no single factor inside the school building determines academic progress as much as an effective teacher.

Note the almost off-hand way that the parent role is glossed over.  If one put the emphasis on the qualification inside the school building, it might make us read that sentence differently.  Say, like this--'inside the school, which, realistically, has constraints to deal with, teacher quality matters, but good parent involvement might be an equal or even more significant factor.'

We can't really tell, though.  As the report acknowledges on page 15,

The degree to which quality teachers are available to African American students in Tacoma schools could not be determined with the available information.

Data are the holy grail, until you lack any or they countervail your preferred claim.  In that case, we just don't need any...we'll assert our beliefs or values.  In fact, I daresay, a data void is preferable, for what's available then is an opportunity to push moral preferences into the breach.

Just this week, though, city and school leadership got some distressing news about how prevalent gangs are in Tacoma.

The review (also performed by outside consultant) found 

The areas [of high gang activity] have the highest percentages of families below the poverty level, lowest median income levels and highest rates of high school students who didn’t graduate or complete the 12th grade.

Hmmm.  When it comes to gang activity, all those family factors are woven in, along with education, to the whole explanatory fabric.  But when it comes to achievement gap, the family situation elements are dropped out...even though the gang aspect includes it.

I need a logician...or a casuist.

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