One of the main reasons for the passage of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was that Democrats and Republicans alike recognized a growing disparity between the academic test scores of students of different ethnicities. Asian and White students continue to test higher than African-American and Hispanic students. This difference has come to be called the achievement gap. To address this achievement gap, NCLB set goals for schools and school districts to achieve with the ultimate goals of eliminating the achievement gap and improving the education system overall.

When he spoke about NCLB, President George W. Bush talked about “The soft bigotry of low expectations.” That is, even well-intentioned people who work in education often do not expect African-American or Hispanic students to do well in school and structure lesson plans for them accordingly. Ironically and tragically, the soft bigotry of low expectations also extends to the minority students themselves and their parents. African-American students especially often do not expect themselves to do well in school. Some of this attitude can be traced to antebellum laws against teaching slaves to read and write. Many slaves faced serious consequences if they revealed that they possessed the ability to read and write.

As the 2014 NCLB deadlines draw nearer without significant or measurable progress toward reducing the achievement gap, many states have applied for and received waivers against the goals. Waivers have been granted on the condition that states and districts in those states demonstrate progress in closing the achievement gap and improving education overall. NCLB has been criticized by many educators for forcing them to teach rote memorization rather than creative or critical thinking.

Convincing Students They Can Close The Achievement Gap

The seeming failure of NCLB makes many despair of ever closing the achievement gap. However, some individual teachers, schools and districts have discovered methodologies that are helping students of all ethnic backgrounds to learn by overcoming low expectations. Some teachers work at closing the achievement gap by addressing it as early as possible and by focusing on the logistics of educating individual students before concentrating on academics. They make sure that they do not seat students who need to make trips to therapy or special education classes near the door, so as not to make them easily identifiable as different. They also work at helping the students acquire basic resources such as food, warm clothing and counseling.

Some middle schools and high schools are having success in closing the achievement gap between White, Black and Hispanic students by directly addressing stereotype threat, or the self-fulfilling prophecy about ethnicity and low academic achievement harbored by many Black and Latino students. Stereotype threat is addressed by having students conduct very short exercises designed to boost self esteem. The exercises are conducted early in the school year and at regular intervals after that. Other exercises help students understand that they are not alone in experiencing difficulty with school work and use other students as role models for overcoming problems. Many such problems are indirectly related to academic subjects. The role models discuss problems such as adapting to a new school or dealing with family problems so as not to let them interfere with school work. Students come to realize that it is not a lack of intellectual ability that keeps them from achieving in school, but their beliefs about their intellectual ability.

This article was contributed by Magnus Keith on behalf of Best in Class education.