From Claude Goldenberg’s perspective, achievement gaps are real and large, and the question is what to do about them. Goldenberg agreed with many others that interventions are needed both outside and inside the classroom. Alexander and Entwhistle, among others, have shown that children from lower socioeconomic (SES) backgrounds make gains during the academic year that parallel those of middle and upper income children, but lose ground during the summer. Such data indicate that the responsibility for closing achievement gaps cannot be placed only at the “school house door.”
Generally speaking, however, the effect sizes obtained in most education intervention research pale in comparison with the size of the achievement gaps. The technical knowledge does not currently exist, in his view, to close achievement gaps, nor are education interventions alone likely to close gaps that result from various economic, cultural, and other factors. In future research, it will be important to use methods for studying instructional practices to evaluate and quantify the results of interventions, rather than just describing the approaches that were implemented. It will also be important to interpret the magnitude of their effects in the context of the overall challenge of “attacking” the achievement gaps.
Kenji Hakuta suggested that the first of Goldenberg’s proposals was most important: discovering the ways in which language affects learning and how to intervene. With respect to the second, the liver, he noted, is important to overall health, but no one asks how important the liver is to life compared with other organs: language is important to education in the same way. As long as it is agreed that language is an essential part of schooling, then it is important to assess students’ progress with language, and, thus, every teacher needs knowledge of language. Labov agreed and said that, for linguists, the question is what can be done to improve language: deciding what portion of the problem of achievement is attributable to language is not the linguist’s concern.
Goldenberg rejoined that it is important for decision making to test assumptions about the relative importance of various aspects of language to school achievement. Studies will be needed both to determine which kinds of teacher training are effective for enhancing language and to evaluate the degree to which those interventions are likely “to pay off” to affect student achievement.
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