Looks to Bridge Student Achievement Gap
by Judy Putnam, Booth Newspapers, November 3, 2003
For more articles like this
close a yawning achievement gap between Michigan's white and
minority students, Michigan Superintendent of Public Instruction
Tom Watkins has created the first state-level position to try to
address the stubborn problem.
Educators have known for years that such a gap exists, but the
Michigan Educational Assessment Program tests released in
October for the first time closely track race and other
Among the scores on the tests taken last school year:
*73 percent of white fourth-graders were considered proficient
in math, compared with 43 percent of black students and 51
percent of Hispanic students;
*85 percent of white fifth-graders scored in the proficient
range in science, compared with 53 percent of black students and
65 percent of Hispanic students;
*69 percent of white seventh-graders were proficient readers,
compared with 35 percent of black students and 47 percent of
Michigan's Asian students scored above all other groups.
The gap is gaining new urgency as federal requirements under No
Child Left Behind of 2001 require schools to count achievement
of minority students as part of tracking Adequate Yearly
Progress. Schools that don't make AYP face a series of
sanctions, leading up to such measures as changing the staff or
reorganizing as a charter school.
In September, Watkins appointed Lloyd Bingman, 43, an Oklahoma
native with a master's in urban education and a doctorate in
education administration, as a special assistant in charge of
closing the gap.
"His job is to be a productive pain-in-the rear and to keep our
focus on it,'' Watkins said. "His sole responsibility is to be
that broken record to ask us what are we doing to push, to
Bingman has a renewable, one-year $75,000 contract with the
state, paid from new federal money under the No Child Left
Behind Act, said Martin Ackley, spokesman for the Department of
Bingman said he'll be looking for best practices across Michigan
and across the country.
"I'm trying to just gather information at this point. What can
we do to actually help these kids learn?'' he said.
David Plank, director of Michigan State University's Education
Policy Center, said the gap has to be closed in the classroom,
with better teachers in urban schools.
"We can have sort of a public advocate for closing the gap, but
the work of closing the gap is going to take place in schools,''
he said. "It's probably going to take more resources.''
Bingman, married and the father of two, said he'll draw on his
experience growing up in Tulsa, Okla., in a single-parent family
in a black neighborhood. His mother took advantage of a school
integration plan to send her son to an affluent white school,
where he was exposed to the idea of college.
"Some African-American children, they don't even think about
college because they don't know anything about college,'' he
He said his success was bolstered by attending graduate school
at a historically black college, Oklahoma's Langston University,
where professors pushed him but also gave him support and role
"I believe a teacher or a professor can really change kids to
want to succeed,'' Bingman said. "That's one thing I'm trying to
focus on here. What are the attitudes of the teachers? What are
they doing to actually engage students? Are they communicating
to them that they can be anything they want to be?''
Bingman moved to Michigan in 1997 to pursue his doctorate in
educational administration at Michigan State University. His
background includes work as a career counselor at MSU and
supervisor of child nutrition services for Oklahoma City Public
Among theories for the achievement gap is the link to poverty,
with more minorities living in poverty, the lack of family
involvement and the failure of schools to offer challenging
curriculum to minorities. More controversial theories have
suggested a link to genetics, as in the 1994 book "Bell Curve,''
and a recent book by a California professor that suggests
African-American attitudes toward education are to blame.
Kati Haycock of the Education Trust, a Washington, D.C.,
nonprofit group that works to close the achievement gap, said
strong evidence suggests that minority students have less
qualified teachers and are offered less rigorous courses than
their white peers, even when skill levels are the same.
"We teach down to them, rather than challenging them,'' Haycock
She said Ohio created a position similar to Bingman's last year,
and is using lessons from successful Ohio schools with high
concentrations of minority and poor students.
"Every state has schools with high concentrations of poor kids
that are doing a good job. To me, it makes a lot of sense to
start there,'' she said. Haycock said Bingman's position could
Others disagree. Joseph G. Lehman, executive vice president of
the Mackinac Center, a free-market policy group in Midland, said
parents don't want "one more bureaucrat in Lansing.''
"Parents want teachers who can teach and safe classrooms. And if
the local school doesn't offer those things, parents must be
allowed to freely choose another school that does,'' Lehman
But N. Charles Anderson, president of the Detroit Urban League,
called it a "good decision.''
"It's a great concern that all of us have around the country and
around the state, particularly here in Detroit,'' he said.
Kevin Hollenbeck, president of the Michigan Association of
School Boards and an education researcher at the W.E. Upjohn
Institute in Kalamazoo, said the achievement gap isn't as
dramatic as it appears when measured by the MEAP because large
groups of minority students are just under the proficient range
while large groups of white students are just above. Raw scores
show the groups closer together, he said.
"The gap is still there. Nobody denies the gap,'' he said.
Some closing of the gap has been reported. In June, after
minority reading scores had stagnated for a decade, Michigan
reported that black and Hispanic fourth-grade students in 2002
had made greater gains in reading than white students on the
National Assessment of Education Progress. The study assessed
250 schools with about 5,000 students as part of a national
back to the top ~
back to Breaking News
~ back to