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Birth of The Achievement Gap In Stamford

Former top Stamford educator Rodney Bass sheds some light on the sources of, and solutions to Stamford's achievement gap.

Retired Stamford educator and ICON award winner Rodney Bass, has his own explanations as to the source of Stamford's achievement gap, and how movements to close it can become successful.

"Homogeneous grouping, not just here in Stamford, but anywhere, is to group kids according to their similar abilities. By doing that you bring kids into likeness," Rodney Bass, former SPS principal of 15 years, said. According to Bass, kids are usually grouped according to their grade-level skills, such as those who perform above their grade level, and those who perform below their grade level.

"You only work with what you are allowed to work with...so if you have students, for example, who are well above their grade level, you are not going to give them the same work or have the same expectations as a group of kids who can barely read. In that, it creates what we now call the achievement gap," Bass said. "You had different sets of rules for different sets of kids."

While Bass was certain that there were those actively working against homogeneous grouping, others were not.

"People have become comfortable with that and there's still some very strong support for that kind of instruction now. The ones who are in the top groups really want to stay there," Bass said.

Bass pointed to "educational tracking" research done in the 1980's by world-renowned educator Jeannie Oakes, which concluded that heterogeneous grouping patterns did not hinder the learning progress of children in higher learning groups, and a movement within Stamford middle schools, started by former superintendent Dr. Joshua Starr, to gravitate towards a less-homogeneous grouping system in SPS.

"All of the teachers were basically instructed and taught how to provide instruction in a multi-cultural, more heterogeneously-grouped situation in the classroom," Bass said about the movement. "There's been some real effort."

Bass referred specifically to a the "Open Door" program at Westhill High, which encouraged all children, regardless of grade-skill level, to take advanced courses.

As even Oakes' research suggests, racial disparity may play a role, even a slight one, in any state's achievement gap.

"There are some grouping situations that occur fairly early on," Bass said, suggesting that there were even homogeneous, elementary school groups when he was a child. "I've been in the system a long time; people get used to what they do and how they do it...are homogeneous grouping patterns in a multi-cultural setting potentially racist? They certainly can be. I don't necessarily say that Stamford has a practice of being racist, I think the well-intended grouping patterns of 50 years ago may have been great when the community was more homogenized, but now, it's a multi-cultural community."

A July revealed that every district in CT had a hispanic-white achievement gap.

"The movement that some board members support [among middle schools] is long overdue," Bass said.

Archie Elam February 10, 2012 at 11:44 AM
Great story! As a school board member, I spoke out often about the achievement gap and it's impact on all our kids. I still remember how stunned I was when seeing student tracking data back to the late 1970s that showed no migration from the black and Hispanic kids in the lower 2 groupings after a conversation with a church member who graduated from Westhill in the late 70s. I lived through the initial board conversations that brought Josh Starr here (they were tough) and on middle school reform (they were even tougher). We must continue the work required to fix our achievement gap. After a career of military service that took me to Germany for the Cold War and the Middle East for the Gulf Wat, getting this gap fixed is essential for our continuation as a democracy!

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