Boston Public Schools Superintendent Talks About Closing Achievement Gap

Judy Hartnett's picture
Thursday, May 31, 2012

Some major cities have departed from tradition and hired people who have never been educators as school superintendents, on the theory that their managerial skills will whip public school systems into shape.

During an informal discussion with black community activists at UMass Boston, Superintendent Carolyn R. Johnson showed the value of having a veteran educator running public schools on a day-to-day basis.

Hubie Jones, former dean of social work at Boston University, cited a study by John Hopkins University researchers that found a third grader being unable to read at grade level is an early warning the student is likely to drop out before finishing high school.

Other studies have long shown that the achievement gap begins to appear in a significant way when black students reach the fourth grade. As a group, black fourth graders fall behind. Some never catch up.

Based on her classroom experience, Johnson explained why the transition from third to fourth grade is more crucial than many parents may realize.

“For most of my career, I taught third and fourth grade,” she said. Through the third grade, students are “learning to read, then after that they are reading to learn.”

Third graders who have difficulty with any of the basics of reading in English — vocabulary, phonics, fluency or comprehension — are headed for academic trouble their next year in school. That’s because reading then becomes about acquiring knowledge.

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