Why Advanced Academics Should Be Provided to All

What students learn in a classroom obviously depends on instruction. Resources can definitely influence effectiveness of instruction. For these reasons, both curriculum and infrastructure can undermine equity in basic education. Parents know this so when they try to get the best opportunity for their children, they are not merely acting based on vanity. Differences in opportunities are the main drivers of gaps in achievement. We see this in early childhood education. Young children raised in families that can afford enriching activities are often better prepared when they enter kindergarten. Inequity is not just a perception. It is real and it has consequences. Thus, when school children are provided different curricula and different resources, we simply should not expect similar outcomes. This is why it is important that advanced academics be provided to all and research supports this.

The most recent example from research is teaching early algebra. In real life, students are first screened to see if they are good enough in pre-algebra math. In Virginia, to qualify for Algebra, one must score high (about 91 percentile) in the Iowa Algebra Aptitude Test and at least 500 in the Virginia 7th grade state exam in math. Well, a group of researchers just did the unthinkable. They introduced early algebra in third grade in three school districts in one state within the southeastern United States without screening students, and the results are stunning. The following is the abstract:

A cluster randomized trial design was used to examine the effectiveness of a Grades 3 to 5 early algebra intervention with a diverse student population. Forty-six schools in three school districts participated. Students in treatment schools were taught the intervention by classroom teachers during regular mathematics instruction. Students in control schools received only regular mathematics instruction. Using a three-level longitudinal piecewise hierarchical linear model, the study explored the impact of the intervention in terms of both performance (correctness) and strategy use in students’ responses to written algebra assessments. Results show that during Grade 3, treatment students, including those in at-risk settings, improved at a significantly faster rate than control students on both outcome measures and maintained their advantage throughout the intervention.

The results become much more obvious with a graph presented by the authors:

Above copied from
Blanton, M., Stroud, R., Stephens, A., Gardiner, A. M., Stylianou, D. A., Knuth, E., … Strachota, S. (2019). Does Early Algebra Matter? The Effectiveness of an Early Algebra Intervention in Grades 3 to 5. American Educational Research Journalhttps://doi.org/10.3102/0002831219832301

One can clearly see the gap and at the end of fifth grade, children taught with an early algebra intervention are now about two years ahead of those who were not given the opportunity. This is a clear example why opportunities matter and no one can really blame a parent who works hard to get the best opportunity for his or her child. There is inequity not just in perception but in reality.

The above findings bring be back to what I heard from a student in Fairfax county months ago which I posted in Fairfax County School Board Will Address Inequity in Its Advanced Academic Program:
...I heard before the meeting from a current student. The student talked about his experience of being enrolled in the gifted program in grade school during which he might have appeared a year ahead of his peers in math. Now, that he is in high school, he is now five years ahead in math. He is wondering whether his peers would not have fallen so far behind if they were likewise afforded the same opportunities and access that were given to him....
In Rick Newman's College admissions scandal reveals worst parents ever, he concludes:
The wealthy enjoy the privilege of opportunity: they have access to all the education, financial resources and support systems needed to succeed. The biggest failure of American society at the moment is a shortage of opportunity. Too many Americans are stuck in lousy schools and limiting circumstances, without the resources to succeed. We should punish criminals, if that’s what they turn out to be. But we should provide more people the opportunities that would allow them to get ahead, on their own, without bribes or special treatment or pathologically overwrought parents.
Gaps in opportunities can easily explain gaps in achievement and this is independent of either our vanity or perception. Opportunities should therefore be provided for all.

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