Search The World of Education

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Nature of America's Most Needy Schools

The Nature of America’s Most Needy Schools:
An Epistemological Analysis and Discussion of Grounds for Solutions

Leon I. Gordon

Northwestern University


This article seeks to address one of our nation’s most pressing concerns: the need for effective teachers in America’s neediest schools. As many search for means to solve this dilemma, it is essential that we ground our search for a solution with an epistemological understanding of the societal constructs that substantiate the prevalence of low-achieving schools in poor, urban communities across our nation. Doing so provides valuable insight to the nature of the omnipresent battles that low-income urban schools face as they grapple with the social, cultural, historical, political, and bureaucratic dimensions of their given ecological contexts. Uncovering the societal underpinnings of these struggling schools exposes rigid nature of the deep-seated obstacles they face as they struggle to improve. Moreover, this approach ultimately provides a clarifying logic that strengthens the foundation and validity for where our nation’s schools, districts, policy reforms, and research institutions have come to fixate their efforts of educational improvement: providing students with effective teachers as a pivotal lever of change. This article seeks to provide a thorough analysis of the dilemmas faced by struggling schools in low-income, urban communities in hopes to provide a “solid-footing” for the solutions it proposes in order to strengthen and increase the supply of effective teachers and end the perpetual stagnation of America’s neediest schools, the impoverishment of their communities and the marginalization of their minority populace.

Key Words: High-Need Schools, Urban Education, Teacher Effectiveness, Resilience, Culturally Relevant Pedagogy, Epistemology

Assembling Effective Teachers for America’s Neediest Schools

Article Overview

This article begins first with a careful analysis of what constitutes and defines America’s neediest schools- through which- it moves to present an overview of the challenges and short-comings these schools face. Next, in acknowledging teacher effectiveness as a vital lever for improving student achievement, this article moves to discuss specific challenges struggling schools face to recruit and retain quality teachers. Lastly, through a brief review of practices of successful teachers in urban contexts, this article will argue that teacher resiliency capacity and use of culturally relevant pedagogy will significantly improve the recruitment and practices of teachers who prove effective for classrooms of low-income, minority students.

Academic Achievement: Moving from a National to a Community-Level Focus

Our nation’s education system is undeniably linked to our future livelihood. In a recent report titled: The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools (McKinsey, 2009), the authors make the claim that “the extent to which a society utilizes its human potential is among the chief determinants of its prosperity” (p.5). According to this report, the United States, in comparison to other advanced nations, is significantly behind in educational performance- and, had our academic performance improved in recent years, the GDP in 2008 could have been “$1.3 trillion to $2.3 trillion higher” (p. 5). The conclusions bolstered in this report paint the picture that there is a positive relationship between the achievement-level in our nation’s schools and our nation’s overall productivity. Surely, if this the case, what can be said about a nation collectively can be said about its subcomponents; such that, communities that often struggle to promote academic achievement are also often communities that experience economic short-comings.

This gives hint to the widely known fact that America’s impoverished communities are homes to the neediest schools. Such is the concern of this article, that is, what lies beneath the aggregate report of America’s collective academic performance: a concern for the individual communities of our nation and the schools within them- more specifically- those schools that struggle to “make the grade”. Accordingly, McKinsey & Company’s report (2009) provides a comprehensive review of who in America is achieving at what level, disaggregating the data behind America’s collective achievement.

It is essential to adjust this evaluative scope to hone in on the microcosms of societal operation (i.e. - the many district-, city-, and state-wide communities) to review which subgroups and what conditions constitute struggling schools as well as how and why improving these schools is so difficult. Doing so will shed light on a foundational logic that substantiates providing these communities and their schools with quality teachers as the vital lever for promoting positive change within. In looking to understand why improvement in America’s most needy schools is confounded, this article moves next to reveal the philosophical and societal underpinnings, conditions, and populations that substantiate their existence.

Examining Philosophical and Societal Underpinnings of America’s Struggling Schools

In his discourse on The Origin of Inequality, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1754) wrote:

“..the human soul [is] altered in the midst of society by a thousand constantly recurring causes, by the acquisition of a multitude of bits of knowledge and of errors, by changes that [take] place in the constitution of bodies, by the constant impact of passions…” (p.33).

We interpret Rousseau’s use of the term “human soul” to be synonymous with “frame of mind”, (i.e. - our on-going perception and interpretation of the world). As suggested by the quote above, the individual frame of mind (and subsequently how we process the world) is influenced by a myriad of factors. In being born unlearned, the individual frame of mind is constantly shaped by human interaction with ecological context and works to influence the cultural practices, embedded beliefs, emotional dispositions, and perceptions of individuals within societies (See fig.1 below, Flavell & Miller, 1998).

Fig. 1 (Flavell & Miller, 1998, p. 855)

Human mind frames develop through their changing participation in the socio-cultural activities of their communities, which also change; further, the dimensions of historical context interact to shape the lives of individuals which shape what, how, when, where and why one learns and is taught (Rogoff, 2003; Dien, 2000). The individual mind frame is what wields one’s participation within society, facilitating decisions and actions- through which individual citizens demonstrate their capacities of collective skill and performance- to produce varying outcomes along one’s life trajectory.

Further, the collective skill and performance of communities of individuals are what drives their ability to be productive. This deduction, suggests that a society’s prosperity rest largely in the cultivation of the mind frames of its individual citizens. As such, the concern for cultivating the mind frames of individual citizens (so as to promote a collective communal prosperity) should become the primary concern for impoverished neighborhoods. However, as formal schooling is the major societal construct to which we turn to in hopes to improve the lives of individuals and communities of individuals, the consistent presence of low-achieving schools present in the challenging ecological context of poverty point to an interdependent relationship of academic achievement in schools and the prosperity of a community. This article moves now to examine this interdependence to hone in on why and how America’s impoverished communities are usually homes to the neediest schools.

Interdependence between Academic Achievement and Community Prosperity

As explored in the latter section, the collective life outcomes that result for individuals and communities of individuals are part of an ongoing performance on the stage of societal living- in which the script is regulated by the indelible calligraphy of the social, emotional, and cognitive milieu of learning to live and, ideally, succeeding in life. According to McKinsey & Company (2009) “the extent to which a [community] utilizes its human potential is among the chief determinants of its prosperity” (p.5).

How, then, do communities utilize human potential; furthermore, why do impoverished communities struggle to do so? History is replete with societal frameworks that stratify the quality of life among their respective citizenry. The United States, in its belief in and practice of a capitalist free-market economy (which establishes divisions of labor among its citizens, see Smith, 1776), will always produce a hierarchy of wealth-- and thereby- access to differing life opportunities among its citizenry. As such, a heterogeneous distribution of wealth is expected; such that, while some individuals and communities of individuals are prosperous, others remain likewise impoverished.

We will begin to understand how communities struggle if we look to the societal construct responsible for cultivating its human potential (which communities hope to utilize in their efforts to be prosperous): formal education. American citizens, for most of their lives, progress with the goal of competing for, or earning, a status in society, in which, formal education is a vital construct relied upon to cultivate human potential for productive participation. Hence, we return to the notion that the school is a major societal construct to which we turn to, in hopes to improve the lives of individuals and communities of individuals.

In communities that are home to a degenerative quality of life, the role of the school is of increased and utmost significance as studies have shown that, the ecological framework (i.e.- community constructs, dynamic of home-life and responsibility and school environment) present vulnerabilities that lead to the sustained marginalization of populations (Burton, 2005).Further, the challenges of impoverished communities make it extremely difficult for schools to serve as catalysts for improvement and change and, in fact, work to further confound their prosperity, rendering both these communities and the schools within them needy (Lee, Spencer, & Harpalani, 2003).

Having now established the interdependent relationship between community prosperity and school performance, this article moves now to make more specific the nature of America’s most needy schools. Who are the subgroups subjected to these poor educational outcomes? What deficiencies and circumstances contribute to these schools’ inability to provide adequate education? How can we look to improve them? This article moves now to provide answers to the latter questions.

Concrete Look at America’s Struggling Schools

The quality (or lack thereof) of education received can enable (or hinder) the ability of a community (and its respective citizens) to achieve upward mobility. What continues to be problematic is the stagnation and perpetual impoverishment of particular communities and subgroups whose pursuit of the “American Dream” or access to the pathway of upward mobility- via education- is disproportionately confounded. This consistent, seemingly systematic arrested mobility of particular subgroups raises questions as to whether these subgroups or communities are being given an equal opportunity to vie for a position of increased life opportunity and success.

In disaggregating America’s overall academic performance to examine different subgroups or communities, McKinsey & Company (2009) substantiate widely recognized claims that significant short-comings of achievement exist among and in between different subgroups--elucidating the reality of what is widely known as “the achievement gap”. The authors examine achievement gaps found within the U.S. school system based on race, income-level, and differing school systems and/or regions. Their results show that America’s disadvantaged are low-income, minority youth (i.e.- Blacks and Latinos) who, “on average, are roughly two to three years behind white students of the same age” (p. 9) and that these discrepancies exist for both test scores (across reading and math) as well as for graduation rates.

Moreover, they report these gaps to exist in every state and that they are even more so pronounced in large urban school districts. According to McKinsey & Company these “avoidable shortfalls in academic achievement impose heavy and often tragic consequences, via lower earnings, poorer health, and higher rates of incarceration” (p. 5). These are the conditions that surround America’s needy schools and the outcomes which the students in these communities face and fail to overcome via academic achievement.

Searching for a Solution to Improving Struggling Schools

Where are we to find a viable solution to improve these schools and, subsequently, the life opportunities for their students? School success is measured by its ability to promote student achievement which, in turn, is cultivated through effective instruction. What is it that confounds America’s neediest schools’ ability to provide effective instruction?

Aside from the environmental challenges brought on by poverty, the factors that influence instructional practice at struggling schools are many: from inadequate funding, limited resources (e.g. - quality of books, curriculum materials, laboratories, and computers) larger class sizes, to less-qualified and less-experienced teachers (Darling-Hammond, 1998; Darling-Hammond & Berry, 1999). The on-site factors that impact instructional efficacy are many and, in an ideal world, improving these schools’ performance would consist of a concerted effort to address all of these deficiencies.

The truth of the matter is that the gears of school operation that impact instruction are subject to many players at many levels (i.e. - federal, state, city, district, individual school) and putting together a concerted effort is more easily said than done (Spillane & Diamond, 2007). Everyone involved (i.e.- teachers, administrators, policy-makers) have different ideas about what it is that will drive improvement, and each level holds a degree of control in which, if interests and intentions are misaligned, a concerted effort for improvement can indeed be difficult (Weiss, 1990).

However, as the goal of these schools is improvement in promoting student achievement, it would seem (beyond all other factors) that the necessity of human capital is the most essential resource. After all, achievement is wielded through effective teaching and, teaching is the business of human improvement (Cohen, 1989). Further, since the seminal study known as the “Coleman Report” it has been hinted that no other resource matters as much as human capital in making a difference in student achievement (Coleman et al. 1966).

Through teaching we “[promise] students intellectual growth, social learning, better jobs, and civilized sensibilities (Cohen, 1989, pp.37). As struggling schools (and all schools for that matter) seek to churn out quality students, logically, it seems that the most essential ingredient is the vital necessity of human capital required to engage in this uncertain, difficult, and complex work of “human improvement”. Talented individuals are needed at the ground-level such that our greatest investment to finding a solution should be to provide students with an effective teacher who proves capable of delivering instruction that results in increased achievement.

This conclusion, albeit arrived at through an epistemological analysis, is one that “holds water”, as “research affirms that teaching quality is the single most important factor influencing student achievement, moving students well beyond family backgrounds’ limitations” (Munoz & Florence, 2008, pp. 159). Furthermore, providing effective teachers for America’s low-income struggling schools (whose performance is confounded by circumstance of poverty and all the challenges that lie therein) is fitting as a vital lever of change as research has consistently shown that” the schools that students attend and what their teachers know and do have more influence on student achievement than students’ family characteristics and ethnicity (p. 159).

Having reached this intended conclusion, this paper now ends its epistemological analysis of the circumstances that influence and perpetuate the existence of America’s struggling schools and moves next to hone in on why providing our struggling schools with effective teachers is more easily said than done.

Overview of Challenges to Providing Effective Teachers for Struggling Schools

Struggling schools face a number of challenges in their attempts to secure effective teachers for their students. This article moves next to provide a brief overview of these challenges which include: (1) difficulty of low-income, urban districts to hire/recruit and retain certified teachers, (2) the challenges of using alternative certification as a means to overcome the limitations imposed by policy and (3) defining and recognizing the qualities of effective teaching.

General Recruitment and Retention Challenges for High-Need Schools

America’s neediest schools (i.e. - large inner-city, low-income school districts) often find it difficult to staff their schools with certified and experienced teachers (Hanushek & Rivkin, 2006). This is partly because urban school districts typically face greater challenges and operate under more trying circumstances than do rural or suburban schools (Darling-Hammond, 1998). These challenges range from high teacher and student absenteeism, high teacher turnover, high numbers of uncertified teachers and great numbers of inexperienced teachers.

The attraction of a school district that offers a more desirable work environment and higher salary provides a rather strong incentive for credentialed and experienced teachers to seek teaching positions outside high-need areas (Hanushek, Kain & Rivkin, 2001; Laczko-Kerr & Berliner, 2002). In the face of these challenges, “the very children [from struggling schools] who most need strong teachers are assigned, on average, to teachers with less experience, less education and less skill” (Peske & Haycock, 2006, p. 2).

Challenges of Recent Policy on Teacher Hiring

What has proven just as confounding to this search for effective teachers has been the raising of teaching standards via the regulations of the infamous No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) (U.S. Congress, 2001). The NCLB act focuses on teacher quality as a means to ensure that schools serving America’s neediest students (who typically have a shortage of experienced and certified teachers) receive teachers who are highly qualified --as one of the major goals of NCLB was to close the achievement gap (Darling-Hammond, 2006). In order to be considered “highly-qualified”, teachers must have a bachelor’s degree, be state-certified, and demonstrate they possess a satisfactory-level of knowledge of the subject they teach (i.e. - via passing subject matter tests and/or meeting course-taking requirements).

In order to comply with the provisions outlined in NCLB and receive the federal funding they have come to rely on for base-line operation-- public schools around the country found themselves scurrying to staff their schools with “highly-qualified” teachers. The increased accountability at the school-level promoted by NCLB has now, more than ever before, caused individual schools and districts to grapple with the reality that is the difficulty of finding effective teachers. No longer would schools be allowed to compromise teacher qualifications and simply “staff” their schools with under-qualified teachers. This reality pushed struggling-inner city schools into an increasingly exhaustive search for experienced teachers within an inner-city workforce, where those who meet “highly-qualified” (especially in areas such as mathematics and sciences) are often few and far between (Peske & Haycock, 2006).

In the face of the provisions of NCLB, schools, especially inner-city schools in need, turned increasingly to alternative certification programs in hopes to meet their staffing needs. In fact, The National Center for Education Information (as cited by Kane, et. al, 2006) estimates that one-third of teachers enter the field via alternative certification. Alternative certification programs help schools meet the regulations outlined in NCLB as they churn out credentialed teachers in less-time and via less formal training- where teachers are often allowed to teach while they garner their certification. This pathway has been very attractive to “hard –to-staff” schools as it presents a legitimized “loophole” that allows schools to meet staffing needs and comply with NCLB. Not only this, teachers who are alternatively certified have been found to be more willing to work in high-need areas (Peske & Haycock, 2006).

This hints that alternative certification programs perhaps have the potential to serve as a means to reduce the difficulty of “hard to staff” schools in meeting the technical provisions of NCLB, such that they provide a consistent supply of certified teachers who are willing to take on the challenges of a high-need school context. While many concerns have risen as to whether alternative certification programs adequately prepare teachers for practice (compared to traditional certification pathways), recent research efforts (Kane, et, al 2006) have began to lay many of these concerns to rest, showing that certification is not the major factor of ensuring teacher quality. These findings show that experience matters in the classroom and that the greatest lever for districts to improve achievement lies in effective retention of teachers who prove to be effective (Schlecty & Vance, 1983).

If this is the case, clearly certification pathway is not the most important factor in ensuring teacher effectiveness. However, what remains unclear or problematic, is the whether or not meeting qualifications results in effective teaching. This article’s focus now shifts to explore the surface of the ubiquitous notion that the practices of effective teaching are not easily recognized and disentangling them is a very complex process and, in our inability to completely or accurately discern the qualities of effective teaching, our efforts to provide effective teachers for high-need schools are further confounded.

Defining the Qualities of Effective Teachers

There is much conversation as to whether teachers who satisfy qualifications and are considered “highly-qualified” actually translate into their being effective in the classroom, these provisions, more or less, serve as an indicator that a given teacher has received, at the very least, the minimal training necessary to practice. Much research has investigated whether or not meeting prerequisite standards such as those set-forth by NCLB, as well as evaluation of other measures seen as potential “proxies” for predicting teacher effectiveness (e.g.- competiveness of undergraduate institution, SAT/ACT scores, whether a teacher has a master’s degree), translates into increased levels of student achievement. While obtaining a master’s degree and completing requisites to achieve “highly-qualified” status, as prescribed by NCLB, does not guarantee a teacher effectiveness (Hanushek & Rivkin, 2006; Kane et, al, 2006; Loeb & Reininger, 2004; Darling-Hammond & Snyder, 2000), studies have shown mixed results in regards to the explanatory/predictive power of these proxies and their measured impact on student achievement (Boyd et. al., 2008; Hanushek & Rivkin, 2006; Kane et, al, 2006; Rockoff et. al. 2008).

Some notable characteristics that researchers have linked to improved student outcomes (and thus effective teaching) are higher test scores, more selective undergraduate institution, having substantial content knowledge, and years of experience. While the positive correlation between these characteristics and student achievement offer some insight into the types of teachers that may prove effective in the classroom, they are far from being the apotheosis of the far-more complex, multidimensional measure that is teacher effectiveness. To make more concrete the complexity of teacher effectiveness, I quote Bransford and Darling-Hammond (2005) as they offer the following comprehensive analysis:

“On a daily basis, teachers confront complex decisions that rely on many different kinds of knowledge and judgment and that can involve high-stakes out-comes for students’ futures. To make good decisions, teachers must be aware of the many ways in which student learning can unfold in the context of development, learning differences, language and cultural influences, and individual temperaments, interests, and approaches to learning ” (p.1-2).

Painted in this light, we see that teacher effectiveness is influenced by a myriad of factors, each with the potential to perhaps confound student achievement. Every school community in America has distinct factors contributing to the unique nature of what is necessary for a teacher to be effective in improving student performance which, of course, can leave us with differing qualities that prove effective in different contexts (see Shulman, 1987; Gay, 2000). Rogoff (2003) argues that “the variation in teacher quality is driven by characteristics that are difficult or impossible to measure”(p.2); further, Loeb and Reininger (2004) attest that the subtle findings linking particular teacher characteristics with student achievement still leave us lagging in our ability to discern specifically what makes for good teaching.

While we agree that it can be difficult (and at times impossible) to measure the characteristics that drive teacher quality, we should remain dutiful to identifying and examining observable teacher actions that significantly impact student learning. In doing so, we increase our ability to ensure that all students have effective teachers (who possess the necessary skills that respond to the given ecological context in which they teach). Having now discussed the challenges to providing effective teachers for schools in poor, urban contexts, this article moves now to discuss the qualities of such teachers for high-need schools.

Recognizing Effective Teachers for High-Need Schools

Providing and facilitating a learning environment is a complex process that has many dimensions. The ultimate goal of a learning environment is to prove effective at providing the necessary supports and procedures that support student learning such that students prove capable in demonstrating mastery of a presented subject matter. In this sense, teacher quality is a demonstration of capability to promote student learning and achievement. The ability of a teacher to promote student achievement lies in a continuum of ecological change, where many obstacles to student learning will arise. This article asserts that in order to prove effective in high-need schools:

(1) teachers must be capable of enacting resilience in the face of the many challenges struggling schools face and
(2) teachers must be responsive to the cultural tools of thinking and emotional processing that students embody so as to maximize their understanding of content.

Teacher Enactment of Resilience and Effectiveness

Effective teachers for low-income minority students in America’s struggling schools have the ability to, in the face of constant challenge, create an environment that “[engages] in sustained and continuous progress toward a performance goal [(demonstrated achievement)] over time” (Elmore, 2002, p.2). In order to create such an environment, these teachers must prove resilient in the face of the challenges high-need schools face (Patterson, Collins, & Abbot, 2004). While research that provides data on the hypothesis of teacher resilience as a control for effectiveness is sparse, research efforts on recruitment and retention (Kane et. al, 2006) attest that the greatest lever for ensuring effective instruction is to work to retain teachers who prove effective; furthermore, Ingersoll (2000) as cited by (Peske and Haycock, 2006) attests that the true nature of the teacher shortage in high-need schools is not so much a shortage of certified teachers but a more of a shortage created by a high rate of turnover of certified teachers who either prove ineffective or unable to withstand the challenging conditions of high-need schools. In this, the logic of resilience as a factor of teacher retention stands indeed in the forefront as a positive causal link for exhibited teacher effectiveness in high-need schools.

Patterson, Collins, and Abbot (2004), in their study of teacher resilience in urban schools define resilience as “using energy effectively to achieve school goals in the face of adverse conditions” (p.1). This study showed that teachers who proved effective (via promoting student achievement) in classrooms of “difficult to teach” students enacted resilience such that they exhibited seven key strengths

(1) remaining positive in spite of adversity,
(2) staying focused on what you care about,
(3) remaining flexible in how they achieve their goals,
(4) taking charge,
(5) work to create a climate of personal and professional support,
(6) maintain high expectations for success for students, teachers, and parents, and (7) work to create shared responsibility and participation.

Although the teacher strengths mentioned above sound straightforward and concise, the actions through which these teachers took to exhibit these strengths are highly situated. Undoubtedly, more research is needed to dissect the nature of these strengths and their relation to teacher enactment of resilience. Further research on resilience as a teacher attribute for success can and will uncover context specific enactment of teacher actions that perhaps can strengthen the practitioner knowledge base of best practices with respect to resilience.

Teacher Responsiveness to Student Culture

The classrooms of America’s most needy schools are filled predominantly with minority student populations. Many cultural practices exhibited by poor, minority families do not align with the cultural practices aligned with middle-class success in achievement, given this the cultural practices of lower-class populations are often viewed as deficits (which ultimately contributes to their continuous marginalization). In her book The Cultural Nature of Human Development, Barbara Rogoff argues that western schooling systems often do not provide adequate supports for the socio-cultural tools of thinking that diverse learners embody. In order for teachers to be effective in high-need schools, they must facilitate learning environments for learners who embody cultural-tools for thinking that differ from typical, middle-class practices.

To concisely demonstrate this, consider a salient, albeit singular, example of this concept: A study involving middle and high school basketball players found that students were better able to solve problems about average and percentage when the questions were set in the context of basketball as opposed to a typical math worksheet format (Nasir, Hand, & Taylor, 2008). The problems presented in a basketball context afforded the use of the cultural practices or cultural tools for thinking embodied by the students such that they achieved a greater demonstration of mastery; however, when the students were presented with problems that did not afford the usage of these cultural tools for thinking, students demonstrated less capability of mastery.

This hints at the fact that perhaps a major area for improvement in our efforts to provide effective teachers is to identify cultural practices of low-income students of color that can aid in their understanding of academic content. This speaks largely to the work of Carol Lee which examines ways to utilize the intellectual reasoning that students embody as a means to coach and scaffold student understanding and mastery of the normative communicative practices that often limit their achievement (Lee, 2001). This calls for teachers, administrators and teacher education programs to restructure their curricular practices to attune to the socio-cultural cognitive practices of its student population. In being aware of the socio-emotional needs of learners we can identify and utilize them as vehicles to cultivate successful participation that supports learning in an otherwise seemingly difficult-to-engage learning environment.


Finding teachers that willfully commit themselves to the day in and day out struggles of teaching within the context of needy schools is undoubtedly a necessity if we hope to see improvement both in these schools and their respective communities. In order to successfully educate students in these communities, schools must be attentive to and strive to meet the social, cultural, and emotional needs of their students. Moreover, these social, cultural, and emotional needs must be actively attended to as students are constructing knowledge. Teachers must work to develop keen sensitivity to the embedded beliefs and thinking practices students bring into the classroom so as to help students leverage them as tools to promote their own learning. Further research on teacher resilience in high-need schools stands to: (1) aid in administrative efforts to identify teachers who may have a strong threshold for resilience enactment and (2) provide further “best practices” of resilience that educators can hone in on to increase their effectiveness in struggling schools. Likewise, further research on successful implementation of culturally relevant pedagogy stands to strengthen the knowledge base of practices that result in increased achievement for minority students(who otherwise remain consistently behind their white middle-class peers).

This article offers these two respective avenues (teacher resilience and culturally relevant pedagogy) as valuable research paths that can contribute greatly in the battle to find viable solutions to closing the elusive “achievement gap”. Through this epistemological analysis, I have come to view this achievement gap as more of an open wound, one that is crusted over and continuously broken open time and again- generation after marginalized generation of communities of individual souls seeking to adapt to and learn the accoutrements that will enable them to heal and flourish in adaptive expertise. The scar tissue that has formed represents the hard lessons we have learned as a society in our struggle to move toward equality.

The truth in the scars left behind are loud and clear: America’s high-need schools remain perpetually present in high poverty, high-minority communities; moreover, in order to prove effective schools in these communities must recruit and cultivate resilient teachers as well as cultivate and implement culturally relevant pedagogy that cultivates a student frame of mind capable of successfully navigating the challenging pathway toward upward mobility via educational attainment. The question remains, what will we do now that we know the truth?


Boyd, D., Grossman, P., Lankford, H., Loeb, S., & Wyckoff, J.
Teacher Preparation and Student Achievement, (August 2008),
retrieved at

Bransford, J. D., & Darling-Hammond, L. (2005). Preparing teachers for a changing world: what teachers should learn and be able to do. San Francisco, CA:Jossey-Bass.

Burton, L. M., Allison, K. W., & Obeidallah, D. (1995). Social context and adolescence:Perspectives on development among inner-city African-American teens. In L. J. Crockett & A. C. Crouter (Eds.), Pathways through adolescence: Individual development in relation to social context (pp. 119-138). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Cohen, D. K. (1989) Teaching practice: Plus ca change. . . . In P. W. Jackson (Ed.), Contributing to educational change: Perspectives on research and practice (pp. 27–84) Berkeley, CA: McCutchan.

Coleman, James S., Ernest Q. Campbell, Carol J. Hobson, James McPartland, Alexander M. Mood, Frederic D. Weinfeld, and Robert L. York. 1966. Equality of Educational Opportunity. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Darling-Hammond, L., and B. Berry. 1999.
“Recruiting Teachers for the 21st Century: The Foundation for Educational Equity.” Journal of Negro Education 68(3): 254–279.

Darling-Hammond, L., & Snyder, J. (2000). Authentic assessment of teaching in context. Teaching and TeacherEducation, 16, 523-545.

Darling-Hammond, L. (1998). Teachers and teaching: Testing policy hypotheses from a national commission report. Educational Researcher, 27(1), 5-15.

Darling-Hammond, L.(2006). Constructing 21st-Century Teacher Education, Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 57, (3), pp.300-314

Dien, D. S. (2000). The evolving nature of self-identity across four levels of history. Human Development, 43, 1-18.

Decker, Paul T., Daniel P. Mayer and Steven Glazerman. (2004) “The Effects of Teach For America on Students: Findings from a National Evaluation, “ Mathematica Policy Research Report No. 8792-750, June 9, 2004.

Elmore, R. (2002, January/February). The limits of “change.” Harvard Education Letter. Retrieved from

Flavell, J.H. and Miller, P.H. (1998).Social cognition. In W. Damon (Series Ed.) & D. Kuhn & R.S. Siegler (Vol. Eds.), Handbook of child psychology: Vol. 2. Cognition, perception, and language (pp. 851-898). New York: Wiley.

Gay, G. (2000). Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Research & Practice.(Chap.2, p. 31). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Hanushek, Eric A., and Steven G. Rivkin. 2006. “Teacher Quality.”
In Handbook of the Economics of Education, edited by Eric A. Hanushek and Finis Welch. Amsterdam: North‐Holland.

Hanushek, E. A., Kain, J. F., & Rivkin, S. G. (2001, November).
Why public schools lose teachers (Working Paper 8599). Washington, DC: National Bureau of Economic Research.

Kane,T.J., Rockoff, J., and Staiger,D.O. (2006). Photo finish: Certification does not guarantee a winner. Education Next 2007(1).

Laczko-Kerr, I., & Berliner, D. (2002). The effectiveness of Teach for America and other under-certified teachers on student academic achievement: A case of harmful public policy. Educational Policy Analysis Archives, 10(37). Retrieved from

Lee, C .D. (2001). Is October Brown Chinese?
A cultural modeling activity system for underachieving students. American Educational Research Journal, 38, 97-141.

Lee, C. D., Spencer, M. B., & Harpalani, V. (2003). “Every shut eye ain’t asleep”: Studying how people live culturally. Educational Researcher, 32, 6–13.

Loeb, S. and Reininger, M. (2004) Public policy and teacher labor markets: What we know and why it matters. East Lansing: Education Policy Center, Michigan State University.

Muñoz, Marco and Chang, Florence. (2008) The Elusive Relationship Between
Teacher Characteristics and Student Academic Growth: A Longitudinal
Multilevel Model for Change. Published online:
© Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2008

McKinsey & Company. (2009). The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools.[Brochure].

Nasir, N., Hand, V., & Taylor, E. (2008). Culture and mathematics in school: Boundaries between “cultural” and “domain” knowledge in the mathematics classroom and beyond. Review of Research in Education, 32, 187–240.

Patterson, J. H., Collins, L., & Abbott, G. (2004).A Study of Teacher Resiliency in Urban Schools. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 31(1), 3-11.

Peske, Heather and Kati Haycock (2006). Teaching Inequality:
How Poor and Minority Students are Shortchanged on Teacher Quality,
The Education Trust, June 2006.

Rockoff, Jonah E., Brian A. Jacob, Thomas J. Kane, and Douglas O. Staiger.
“Can You Recognize an Effective Teacher When You Recruit One?” NBER Working Paper 14485. Cambridge, Mass.: National Bureau of Economic Research, 2008.

Rogoff, B. (2003) Cultural Nature of Human Development.
(Chap. 7, p. 258-260)Cary,NC:Oxford University Press.

Rousseau, J. (1754). “ Discourse on the Origin of Inequality,”
In Basic Political Writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, ed. Donald A. Cress. (p.25-109) I987. Indianapolis, IN: Hacket Publishing Company.

Schlecty, P., & Vance, V. (1983). Recruitment, selection and retention:
The shape of the teaching force. Elementary School Journal, 83, 469–487.

Shulman, Lee. “Those Who Understand: Knowledge Growth in Teaching.”
Educational Researcher 15, no. 2 (February 1986): 4-14.

Smith, Adam. (1776) 1979. The Wealth of Nations. Edited by Andrew Skinner. Baltimore: Penguin.

Spillane, J., & Diamond, J. B. (Eds.). (2007). Distributed leadership in practice. New York: TeachersCollege Press.

U.S. Congress. (2001). No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Public Law 107-110. 107th Congress. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.

Weiss, Janet. 1990. “Control in School Organizations: Theoretical Perspectives,” In Choice and Control in American Education, ed. William H. Clune and John F. Witte. New York: Falmer.

No comments: