Discussion panel examines growing achievement gap

On Thursday Feb. 2, the Geneseo chapter of Students for Education Reform held a panel discussion in Wadsworth Auditorium to discuss the growing issue of the achievement gap between students from high-income and low-income families.

Francesca Gibson and Jamie Williams, who helped found Uncommon Schools in Rochester, N.Y., were on the panel along with David Jordan, the Teach For America recruitment manager for upstate New York; Susan Norman, who works for the Xerox Multicultural Center and Geneseo’s School of Education; and Nick LaGrassa, a Geneseo senior and member of Teach For America corps.

Jordan claimed the achievement gap “is a nationwide problem” and one that is growing, because while in the early ‘90s one in 10 students from low-income families graduated from college, now that number is one in 13.

“The problem is so great … we don’t need effective teachers, we need transformational leaders,” Jordan said.

Williams stressed the importance of differentiated instruction, adjusting the curriculum to each individual student’s level. The need for higher expectations of students, especially concerning children, in special education programs is also important.

Gibson agreed, explaining that coddling a student because of their difficult background won’t help them in the long run. Norman added that a student’s self-esteem is also important. Many students, it was claimed, are so afraid of failure that they will simply stop trying rather than try and subsequently fail.

Williams noted the importance of feedback for the teachers. She said they should receive “targeted professional development” and teach “how important it is to be a leader” rather than judge how high the test scores of their students are.

LaGrassa stated that it is important for college students to be aware of the achievement gap so they can help to close it.

“We don’t realize how amazing of an experience college is, with the chance to figure out who we are, what we want and why we want it,” LaGrassa said. “We need to give back and let other people experience the same thing.”

He also discussed his upcoming trip to Mississippi where he’ll be teaching.  Although nervous, he said he’s also “excited to figure out ways to change someone’s life.”

Junior Brittany Wolf, co-founder of the Geneseo chapter of Students for Education Reform, said, “We were just really excited to have them here and hear from people who are passionate and have had first-hand experiences when it comes to this issue.”

Wolf, along with junior co-founder Julia Addeo, asked the majority of the panel’s questions.

“I think I realized what I want to do now, so I’m definitely going to apply [to Teach For America],” sophomore Richard Frieman said after attending the panel discussion.