Officials identify education problems

More needs to be done to close the achievement gap in the United States, a former Bush administration U.S. secretary of education said during a presentation at the Marvin Center Tuesday night.

About 40 students gathered to listen to Rod Paige, Allen Sessoms, president of the University of the District of Columbia, and James Bryant, a consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton, discuss what should be done to close the achievement gap between students of different backgrounds in public schools across the country.

“The problem is us,” Sessoms said. “We don’t fund the programs we need to fund and D.C. is a place where we can afford to do it.”

George Rice, associate director of the Multicultural Student Services Center, moderated the panel, posing questions sent in by the audience through text messages.

Bryant called the District “a tale of two cities.”

“There are many who have the opportunity to attend top universities,” Bryant said in reference to D.C. high school students. On the other hand, Bryant noted, “40 percent of high school students in D.C. don’t graduate.”

When asked if the election of Barack Obama proved that the achievement gap in schools was closing, Paige responded “absolutely not.” The panel agreed that while the election of Obama has done a lot for politics, it has done nothing for education.

“We need to accept the reality of the problem and seek solutions for that problem,” Paige said.

The panel agreed, however, that the fixing the achievement gap is a task that does not belong on the shoulders of one specific group.

“All of us share this responsibility,” Paige said.

An audience member asked the panel what grade they would give the No Child Left Behind Act. Paige, who was instrumental in crafting the policy, said “the act itself should have a very high grade,” but that “it could have used some added discussion.”

“It got the ball rolling,” added Sessoms, who gave the act a B-, but “it needs help and more conversation.”

The discussion was furthered when an audience member asked if there is too much emphasis placed on grades and scores rather than competency and skills.

“Tests actually measure competency and skills,” Sessoms said. “[We] are tested every day. If you think you’re going to graduate GW and not be tested, think again.”

The panel concluded by offering advice that students at GW can use to help close the achievement gap on their own.

“Embrace a child,” Sessoms said, while Paige urged students to “understand the issues.”

Paige also urged students to get involved in Teach for America, one of the groups that brought the education panel together, along with LevelTen, a nonprofit group aimed at closing the achievement gap.

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