Eliminating the achievement gap: the study of one Texas school district
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Despite decades of educational and social reform efforts targeted to eradicate differences in achievement among student groups, gaps in the achievement of minority and poor students remain one of the most pressing problems in education. During the past 4 decades, there has been a gradual evolution toward disaggregating ethnic student group data to the greatest extent possible. The rationale for devising a system of identifying students by race and socioeconomic level is to monitor performance differences between students and to hold districts accountable for any gaps in achievement between student groups. Designed to confront and to solve equity and excellence issues, Texas instituted a statewide test, the TAAS, and implemented an accountability system that reports student achievement for ethnic and socioeconomic student groups as well as for all students. These results-oriented control structures, however, do not examine the design of the school system itself to determine if it is capable of achieving its aim. Some educational researchers have asserted that it is the design of the educational system itself that maintains the ethnic and economic achievement gaps (Apple, 1982). Few school districts have succeeded in actually eliminating the gap; yet, one Texas school district has successfully addressed the problem by completely eradicating achievement differences between student groups. Four major theories are suggested as reasonable explanations for the district’s success: (a) organizational learning disciplines; (b) correlates of effective schools; (c) total quality management in education; and (d) focused equity practices. In attempting to discover how this phenomenon occurred, especially in light of the fact that an infinitesimal number of other school districts have had comparable accomplishments, five suppositions emerged: (a) The Texas Accountability System acted as the key infrastructure of the district transformation; (b) district leaders possessed a strong desire to remedy academic discrimination; (c) all stakeholders maintained a sustained focus on student learning; (d) the conditions in the district were conducive to reciprocal support; and (e) student, teacher, and district efficacy improved the learning environment.