Panel talks of methods to close achievement gap


Abby Smith had asked her students to take a Post-It note and place it on a large map of… Abby Smith had asked her students to take a Post-It note and place it on a large map of Maryland. She wanted to use them to point out places they have visited in the state over their summer vacation.

No one stepped forward.

When she asked her students how many had visited Maryland over the summer, only three of the Baltimore school students raised their hands. That was her first day teaching for the Teach For America program, and it’s where she met what she saw as one of the bigger problems facing society – the education gap.

Abby Smith, the current Pennsylvania recruitment director for Teach For America, also said that the achievement gap partly exists through a lack of belief.

“It’s a gap that exists because we don’t expect more,” Smith said, attributing this expectation to a lowering of standards.

Smith was one of four panelists who spoke at an Educational Inequality talk Wednesday night in the William Pitt Union Lower Lounge.

Smith decided to join Teach for America to better understand poorer areas and thus prepare herself for a career in public policy. She wanted to get close to the people who needed help so she could better understand them.

“I felt that we were actually working with the actual issues,” Smith said. She said that she still keeps in touch with her students from Baltimore and that they need as much attention as anybody else.

“They deserved every opportunity in society,” Smith said.

Katy Frey, who joined Teach For America and taught in Phoenix, said that the achievement gap doesn’t come from just parents or a lack of money and teachers.

“Mostly it’s a lack of belief that all students can achieve,” Frey said. She identified literacy as one of the most important goals to focus on in order to close the achievement gap.

Kahleb Graham is currently teaching seventh grade in West Philadelphia and believes that closing the achievement gap will not only require a concerted effort, but would be complicated to cure.

“It’s a really big issue – a really complicated issue, and it will take a lot of people in a lot of different sectors to help close that gap,” Graham said.

Arthur Wolfson taught students in New Orleans as part of the program and currently works as clerk for a federal judge in Pittsburgh. He said that the achievement gap is exacerbated by a basic misunderstanding.

“The issue is about where your students need to be versus where they are – not where other students are,” Wolfson said, who mentioned that comparing low-performing students to students who perform higher than their grade level is unfair and self-defeating.

Wendy Kopp, the president and founder of Teach For America, originally proposed the idea for Teach For America during her senior year at college. She spent the next 17 years building the organization.

Kopp, who holds honorary doctorates from several colleges and graduated from Princeton, has made it her life’s work to help battle the achievement gap

“My sense was that our generation was searching for something,” Kopp said. She decided to recruit people the same way young people “were being recruited by the time at Wall Street.”

She began just by sending letters out to the heads of different corporations asking for help, and according to Kopp, “A couple of letters landed in the right spot,” and the budding organization quickly gained critical mass.

She remembered speaking to a leader in the Los Angeles school district and telling him that they had 500 students from various colleges interested in teaching at various schools. According to Kopp, he told her, “You get students from these schools, and we’ll hire all 500 of them.”

Kopp said that not only does this program help children and teenagers by providing them with good teachers, it also helps develop the skills of the recruits, no matter what field they are looking to enter.

“The most successful teachers do what the most successful leaders do,” Kopp said. She listed being goal-oriented, ambitious, determined and persevering in the face of challenges as key skills for any recruit to have and develop. .