Taking Advice from Einstein on the Achievement Gap

There has been a gap in student achievement since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision. Students of color, students with disabilities, students acquiring English as a second language, and students of low socioeconomic status continue to display a significant disparity in their academic performance. Many institutions of higher education and organizations of policy studies have conducted research on the achievement gap and suggested solutions for closing the gap (i.e., better teacher preparation, active parental participation, and a rigorous curriculum). Furthermore, the “myriad [of] changes to our education system over the years – increased accountability, calendar and schedule changes, school choice, merit pay, ability grouping, smaller schools, increased testing, higher standards – few have resulted in improved outcomes for all learners” (Rickabaugh, 2016).

This perpetual phenomenon of the achievement gap continues to exist regardless of the time and resources devoted to this problem. Perhaps it is time for educators to take a little advice from Einstein.

Einstein submitted, in order to solve a problem, one will have to think higher than the thoughts that created the problem. Hence, the problem of the achievement gap can not be solved using the same thinking that created it.

Schools of the industrial age were founded on curriculum-theory models, which are inclined to be descriptive and results-oriented (Reigeluth, 2009). Approaches that utilize curriculum-theory models focus on “what to teach” thus producing a linear, continuous learning progression that ultimately leads to satisfying standards. Furthermore, the focus on “what to teach” places standards and results at the center of teaching and learning rather than the student. Subsequently, the effects of curriculum-theory models has crystalized and created a space for achievement gaps.

To dissolve the achievement gap, 21st century learning requires educators to think about teaching and learning in a new way. To truly solve the achievement gap problem, thinking must be on a higher level than curriculum-theory models. For this reason, educators must stop being results-oriented, and start being goal-oriented. Perhaps, instructional-design theories are the next best option for examining teaching and learning. Instructional-design theories are probabilistic. In other words, these models place the learner at the center and creates instructional conditions, desired outcomes, and instructional components based on the learner’s personal learning goals and learning profile. Instructional-design theories focus on “How to teach.” In other words, by focusing on “how to teach“, students are placed at the center of teaching and learning rather than standards and results. Conceivably, instructional-design theories will form non-linear discontinuous learning progressions that leaves no space for achievement gaps.

In sum, to genuinely close the achievement gap, Einstein’s advice must be followed. Educators will have to think higher than the thoughts that created the problem.

References:

Reigeluth, C. M. (2009). Instructional-design theories and models: A new paradigm of instructional theory. New York: Routledge.

Rickabaugh, J. (2016). Tapping the power of personalized learning: A roadmap for school leaders.

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