Do Educators’ Mental Models Impact Student Achievement

Just today May 23, 2018, my colleagues were talking to me about the “Achievement Gap” and “Equality.” One stated, “After so many years, very little has changed as it relates to closing the gap which continues to linger between Hispanics and White Students as well as African American and White students.” My reply, “Well that’s absolutely true.”  Due to reflecting on that conversation,  I have been motivated to write out my thoughts.

So, I am wondering how do we educators and the implemented systems or barriers contribute to the widening of the ever pressing achievement gap that shows up on multiple metrics such as the American College Testing (ACT), Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), Measurement of Academic Performance (MAP), National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), as well as state assessments such as the LEAP of Louisiana. Research consistently provide evidence, despite ethnicity and social economic status of students, there is a smaller and more manageable achievement gap when students enter kindergarten. Consequently, as students persist through secondary schooling the gap widens. “Why?” What happens for students who attend school 90% of the time but still suffer from the achievement gap?

These questions led me to think about our mental models. Mental Models are “deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures and images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action (Senge, 1990). Very often, we are not consciously aware of our mental models or the effects they have on our behavior” (Senge, 1990). Sometimes we are not aware of the negative impact on certain students’ academic success.

Explanation of the Achievement Gap

There are many thoughts as to why there is an achievement gap. For example, there are views on what happens at home or in the community and what happens within the walls of the schoolhouse (Ford, 2008). It is clear educators cannot control what happens at home. However, at school many times teachers’ mental models of poor students or students of color are extremely low. As a result, we get what is known as a dumb down curriculum.  In other words, Algebra II of the 1990s is not the same Algebra II in the 21st Century.  To many teachers severely do not believe all students can learn if given increased time on task, necessary supports, and interventions supported by prioritized standards with aligned common formative assessments.

Nevertheless, teachers and principals are in control of the schoolhouse and they should be using data sets to drive instructions every hour of the school day for every student. Subsequently, strong negative mental models of certain groups of students may very well impede teachers from operating in good faith in regards to students of color and their parents who do not have loud voices and possibly less educated ( Noguera, 2012).

It is imperative for principals, department chairs, and administrators to challenge the mental models of implicit biases. This should be a non-negotiable. Those responsible for educating students should be held accountable. Why? Because for many students its truly a matter of life or death. Education breaks poverty. Educated citizens have more opportunities because doors are open for them. Educated citizens are more likely to have insurances such as health, vision, dental and opportunities for homeownership. “The American Dream.”

As of 2014, there are more children of color in public schools than there are students from the majority group. I point this out in order to make the case of how important it is to hold all accountable. There are now more students of color in public school. The very populations who tend to significantly lag behind white students.

“Of the projected 50.7 million public school students entering prekindergarten through grade 12 in fall 2017, White students will account for some 24.4 million. The remaining 26.3 million will be composed of 8.0 million Black students, 13.6 million Hispanic students, 2.8 million Asian/Pacific Islander students, 0.5 million American Indian/Alaska Native students, and 1.5 million students of Two or more races. The percentage of students enrolled in public schools who are White is projected to continue to decline through at least fall 2026, as the enrollments of Hispanic students and Asian/Pacific Islander students increase” (National Center Educational Statistics, 2017).

As leaders, we must lead with integrity and we must lead with students at the core of every decision that we make. Stay WOKE!!

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