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achievement gap

This article is a republication with permission of "Effective Teaching as a Civil Right: 
How Building Instructional Capacity Can Help Close the Achievement Gap," by Linda Darling-Hammond, Voices in Urban Education no. 31 (Fall 2011), published by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University in collaboration with the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy, University of California Berkeley School of Law.

Proliferating across the country at what seems lightning speed is a law that grants parents an unprecedented degree of power to intervene in the fate of underperforming schools. First adopted in California in January 2010 and spurred by the Parent Revolution group out of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), what’s become known as the “parent trigger” law says that when a majority of parents with children in schools designated “failing” under No Child Left Behind demand administrators be replaced or that the school reopen as a charter, the district must comply.

It's a familiar refrain in American education: African-American children score lower on standardized tests, graduate high school at lower rates, and are considerably more likely to be suspended or expelled than the general population.

Back in the 1990s, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) in Charlotte, N.C., were plagued with racial equity issues and low academic performance. In 1996, only 66 percent of the students met state reading standards and just 40 percent of the district's black students performed at grade level in reading and math.

That same year, the board of education and school administrators started to map out a turnaround plan to ensure that all CMS students would have the chance to receive an education that would prepare them for college or for success in the workforce.

In an impoverished corner of Phoenix, just north of Sky Harbor International Airport, the first school district in Arizona to adopt a 200-day calendar is reporting impressive academic improvements after only one year.

The Center on Education Policy released three studies in June summarizing the achievement of minority students since the implementation of No Child Left Behind in 2002. Each of the three studies—analyzing the performances of African-American, Asian, and Latino students, and named Student Achievement Policy Briefs 1, 2 and 3 respectively— used official data from all 50 states from 2002 to the present.

From selecting appropriate curricula and teachers to providing classrooms with bathrooms easily accessible to 4-year-olds, public preschool programs present challenges to districts that run the programs, which are designed to prepare children to get off to a good start when they enter kindergarten.

Education reformer and writer Whitney Tilson, who helped launch Teach for America in 1989, has a dream: that little boys and little girls of all economic backgrounds in the United States have the same education.

He put his dream into a documentary film, A Right Denied: The Critical Need for Genuine School Reform, which was released in April 2010 and produced by documentary filmmaker Bob Compton.

In late March, the Los Angeles Unified School District became the first of at least 32 K12 school districts nationwide to undergo federal compliance reviews intended to spotlight possible discrimination against specific groups of students that has resulted in persistent achievement gaps on standardized tests.

The Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education, which has a mission to ensure equal access to education, according to its Web site, hopes to use these compliance reviews to provide technical assistance to help districts improve their performance.

Is a longer school day and school year a ticket to higher achievement? Recent reports on 26 schools throughout Massachusetts and 39 schools in Miami-Dade (Fla.) County Public Schools provide widely different answers.