Survey Reveals A New Achievement Gap

Kim CarterResearch, Teachers

By Mary Jo Dunnington, Vice President, Strategic Partnerships, All Kinds of Minds

MetLife just published its annual survey, “The American Teacher.” Part 2, which synthesizes feedback from teachers, principals and students on student achievement, is chock-full of revealing data. For example:

  • Most teachers (84%) are very confident that they have the knowledge and skills necessary to enable all of their students to succeed academically.
  • Only 36% of teachers and 51% of principals believe that all of their students have the ability to succeed academically.

If this doesn’t scream “urgent problem,” I don’t know what does. MetLife’s analysis of this stunning disparity largely focuses on how expectations that teachers have of their students often are not uniformly high. Fair enough. But what causes a teacher to have lower expectations of a particular student – or group of students? To write students off as unmotivated, lazy, or simply unable to learn?

The answer seems to lie, at least in part, in other survey findings. The analysis restates the finding from last year’s survey that 43% of teachers report that their classes have become so mixed in terms of students’ learning abilities that they cannot teach them effectively. This hints that the confidence teachers expressed in their own knowledge and skills may only reflect their confidence in dealing with certain learners – not those who are wired to learn differently.

Another finding suggests that the problem goes beyond teacher expertise to how learning opportunities are structured in our schools:

“Teachers believe that addressing the individual needs of diverse learners has a major impact on improving student achievement. However, only one-third of students (32%) strongly agree that students in their school get to be creative and use their abilities at school.”

Research has shown that educators equipped to use a neurodevelopmental perspective on learning are better able to work effectively with a broad range of learners, and they better understand how to leverage student affinities and strengths to engage kids in learning. The challenge is to help educators understand that the knowledge and tools are out there – beyond what most of them have acquired in their preparation and experience to date – that could shift how they look at their students’ abilities – and give them a new perspective on their own.

View the MetLife 2009 survey