School & District Management

Students to Investigate Causes For Achievement Gaps

By Lynn Olson — May 29, 2002 2 min read

Researchers have proposed numerous causes for the achievement gaps between minority and nonminority students and those from rich and poor families. Now, students will have a chance to seek and provide their own views.

In the first phase of an unusual project, researchers at the City University of New York have trained 32 youth researchers, between the ages of 14 and 21, to conduct a detailed study of how their peers view the achievement gap, its causes, its consequences, and potential remedies.

The youth researchers last week sent a survey they’ve designed to more than 7,000 students in nearly a dozen districts in New York City, New Jersey, and the close-in suburbs of the New York metropolitan area.

The survey will be followed by more intensive research in public schools in four locations: Bedford, N.Y.; South Orange/Maplewood, N.J.; White Plains, N.Y.; and New York City. Planned activities include:

•Student focus groups, led by a graduate student and a youth researcher, that explore issues of race, ethnicity, class, and educational opportunity;

•An analysis of the transcripts of a racially and ethnically diverse sample of high school seniors to examine the courses taken, disciplinary history, grades, types of assessments, and postgraduation plans;

•In-depth interviews with a random sample of 20 recent high school graduates, conducted by a graduate student and a youth researcher, to explore how well the graduates’ school experiences prepared them academically, socially, and psychologically; and

•Documentation of schools that provide students from diverse backgrounds with a high-quality, equitable education.

The project also will include visits by students to one another’s schools.

Getting Adults to Listen

The Class, Race, Ethnicity, and Opportunity Research Project is supported by a $199,000 grant from the New York City-based Rockefeller Foundation.

The project is part of a larger effort to tackle the achievement gap by a regional consortium of participating districts, the Regional Minority Achievement Consortium, led by Sherry P. King, the superintendent of the 4,500-student Mamaroneck, N.Y., public schools.

Michelle M. Fine, a professor of education at CUNY’s graduate center, is the principal investigator for the project. She described it as the first comprehensive, regional look at youths’ perspectives on the achievement gap, as studied by young people themselves.

“We need to understand the academic, social, and psychological consequences of dramatic gaps in opportunity structures,” Ms. Fine said in an interview last week. “I think we’ll get that from the various forms of empirical materials the students will be collecting.”

Over the two years of the project, the teenagers will help produce scholarly reports, issues briefs for policymakers, and brochures, newsletters, and other materials for community groups. They also hope to mount a theatrical production to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the historic school desegregation decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, in 2004.

“I think we have to figure out how to create audiences that are worthy of what young people have to say to us,” Ms. Fine said. “How do we force adults to listen? A lot of what the young people dare to say, educators are also saying, but they’re saying it quieter.”

Participating students may receive three college credits from St. Peter’s College in Jersey City, N.J. The students were trained through a series of research camps in 2001 and this year.

A version of this article appeared in the May 29, 2002 edition of Education Week as Students to Investigate Causes For Achievement Gaps


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