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Granite Bay author identifies ways to close achievement gap

Highlights ?what successful educators and parents do? in new book
By: Sena Christian, Granite Bay View
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Don't let the thought of reading Dr. Rex Fortune's 450-page book on closing the achievement gap among students stress you out.

The highly researched book breaks information down into digestible charts, graphs and anecdotes. Besides, the book, "Bridging the Achievement Gap: What Successful Educators and Parents Do," doesn't bemoan shortcomings and failures. Instead, the Granite Bay author offers solutions based on the premise that every child can be academically successful.

"Our purpose was not to focus on the negatives but to highlight schools (that are) finding ways to get these very same students to achieve at the (California) state, and above the state, requirements," Fortune said.

Longtime educator

Fortune knows what he's talking about when it comes to education. Both his parents were educators - his father a principal and mother an eighth grade teacher.

After serving in the military, Fortune became a high school teacher, then site administrator and next spent 11 years working for the California Department of Education. For five years, he served as superintendent of a district in Inglewood and spent 15 years as superintendent of Center Unified School District in Sacramento County. He retired and founded the nonprofit organization Fortune School of Education.

In 2002, he co-authored a book called "Leadership on Purpose: Promising Practices for African American and Hispanic Students."

But readers questioned a missing component in that book: the perspectives of teachers and parents. So, Fortune decided to take another look. He'd focus on teaching practices and parents' involvement in their children's education in addressing the achievement gap. He calls this gap a "national and persistent phenomenon."

What schools do

He solicited the assistance of his son, Rex Fortune III, to collect data. The younger Fortune selected 20 schools that met their criteria from the nearly 10,000 schools in California. He first looked for student populations that don't typically do well.

The Fortunes identified seven elementary and middle schools that are meeting the state goal of a score of at least 800 on the Academic Performance Index (API). These schools are also proficient in mathematics in at least one grade level on the California standards test.

At least 50 percent of the schools' student body was economically disadvantaged, meaning they get free or reduced lunch. These students were poor minorities but still high achievers.

The younger Fortune studied practices at the school and district level with the question: "What are they doing that can be reproduced?" he said.

One thing he learned: The inclusion of parents in the child's education is critical. Parents need to get their kids to school on time, tell them to behave, supervise their homework and volunteer on campus.

"(Learning) needs to continue at home," Fortune III said.

He and his father also found another similarity among achieving schools - the teachers truly believe their students can learn in the first place and they set high expectations. The Fortunes highlight the Oakland Charter Academy.

"Their API goal (in 2010) was to get 1,000 - a perfect score," said the elder Fortune.

The school didn't quite hit its goal, earning a score of 953. But this score is well above the state goal.

Teaching practices

The book also lists 33 promising teaching practices, and interviews and sample lesson plans from eight teachers. These include: collaboration with fellow teachers, frequent assessments of students, sending weekly progress reports to parents and the use of interactive activities to engage kids.

"What's required to really make a significant impact to bridge this achievement gap is for leadership to occur," Fortune said.

Educators and parents who help students excel in school focus not on the failure of youth but on areas of improvement to create high-achieving students.

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at SenaC_RsvPT.

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To close the achievement gap, educators should ...

  • 1. Set big goals and believe students can achieve them
  • 2. Have high expectations and know all students can succeed
  • 3. Adopt content standards and present them in creative ways
  • 4. Monitor what students learn through regular assessments
  • 5. Do what's needed to teach kids, or be replaced
  • 6. Devote extra time to instruction for low-achieving students
  • 7. Frequently communicate with and encourage involvement of parents
  • 8. Invest in all areas of instruction, including use of technology

Source: "Bridging the Achievement Gap," by Rex Fortune

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For more information on the book, "Bridging the Achievement Gap: What Successful Educators and Parents Do," visit www.fortuneandassociates.com.