As an advocate for global literacy and accessible education, it’s difficult for me to swallow the United States education pill that is the achievement gap. Directly related to both the learning and opportunity gaps, the achievement gap commonly refers to the “significant and persistent disparity in academic performance or educational attainment between groups of students.” The roots of this disparity run deep.
According to the National Education Association, the student groups that commonly experience achievement gaps (as indicated by test performance, access to key opportunities, and attainments such as diplomas, advanced degrees, and future employment) include racial and ethnic minorities, English language learners, students with disabilities, and students from low-income families. Inner-city schools, which some researchers call “dropout factories,” are often at the heart of this issue, due in part to their high numbers of minority and impoverished students.
The U.S. government’s No Child Left Behind law of 2002 was overrun with issues and failed to make notable improvements. And while a number of city schools nationwide have taken the issue into their own hands, working to improve the quality of their teachers and their graduation rates with some success over the last decade and a half, experts agree that gradual change over time will not cut it. As recently as 2012, African American and Hispanic students trailed their peers by an average of 20 or more test points, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
In general, the students experiencing achievement gaps have a higher chance of dropping out of school. These dropouts face significant trials in acquiring employment and attaining economic stability. Female dropouts are at a unique economic uncertainty. As compared to male peers, girls who fail to earn their diploma have higher rates of unemployment; make notably lesser wages; and are more inclined to depend on help from public programs to accommodate for their families.
A Nonprofit Solution
It’s important to note that many of these inadequate strategies have been centered on making changes within regular school hours — changes that take time to implement. How can we make a more immediate impact on our schools, outside of school?
Independent studies have shown that superior after-school programs lead to positive academic outcomes, including improved test scores, grades, attendance, dropout rates, and increased interest in learning. Evidence also suggests that they lead to a decrease in juvenile crime rates and notable boosts in self-esteem and confidence.
Unfortunately, many city school districts that need these programs the most lack the policy and/or budgetary support, making education-based nonprofits a crucial part of the solution.
A growing number of reports on the performance of education-based nonprofits prove that their after-school and/or summer programs have a positive impact on students and their families. They provide disadvantaged youth with a safe and engaging environment, extended time spent on diverse subject matter, mentorship, and psychosocial and intellectual enrichment in exciting contexts and settings that aren’t available in school.
So, What Does a Superior Program Look Like?
There are a number of factors that affect a student’s chance at successfully navigating their way to graduation. That’s where these education-based non-profits really fill the gap in the education system. It isn’t possible for every teacher, principal, school sentry and janitor to solve every potential problem students have. Their plates are already loaded with getting students to pass standardized testing, dealing with administrative issues and keeping schools safe and clean. It’s the non-profits that have the opportunity to see a problem and analyze it, to come up with a creative solution without the same restrictions our school systems and administrators face, and to engage children and their parents in a manner that is more likely to work within those parameters. It certainly isn’t easy to create a successful non-profit. It takes heart, great support, and engaged stakeholders. These are some non-profits out there that have stood out and have done a wonderful job.
Thank you Marissa for writing this blog and sharing your insight!
Marissa Zych is a twenty year old student at RIT. She is interested in the education and political landscape and is from Albany, New York. She loves getting involved in her community and seeing positive change through giving back. She likes to volunteer her time at after school programs, nursing homes, and animal shelters where she rescued her cocker spaniel puppy Bowie!
Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials. She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Go Dyslexia, in Ossining, NY. To learn more about her products and services, you can go to https://godyslexia.com/, www.goodsensorylearning.com, www.dyslexiamaterials.com & www.learningtolearn.biz