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Imagine a football field built on a slope, with one end zone 100 yards uphill from the other. The players moving toward the downhill end zone would find everything easier, wouldn’t they? Running would take less effort, scoring would increase, and even after a fumble, the ball would roll their way. And the players with the uphill end zone would find every play more difficult.
Now, haul in enough dirt to eliminate the slope. Put that field on level ground. Suddenly, the teams are on equal footing, and the game is fair.
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It’s often viewed similarly in education. Teachers, administrators and communities constantly use the term “a level playing field.” It refers to efforts to allow all students to start at the same place in their education, especially poorer students – often minorities – who come to the classroom with less English language proficiency and more economic hardships than others. The argument is that these students actually need more in their early years just to give them equal footing with their other classmates. Without that extra infusion of time and education, the resulting “achievement gap” between the two demographics often becomes permanent, affecting success in class, dropout rates, performance on achievement tests and qualifications for higher education.
There are a lot of proposed solutions, including early childhood education, legislative action, charter schools, innovation, technology, and various ways to fund schools. In its The National Education Association (NEA) suggests many steps a school or district can take, including the following:
Dominican University of California’s online professional development program understands the challenge of teaching ELL students. They offer three online continuing education courses specifically targeted to teachers who teach (or desire to teach) ELL students. They include:
“The achievement gap takes many forms, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution,” writes ThinkCERCA, a company that produces literacy coursework. “What works for one student won’t work for all. However, by meeting the individual needs of our students, we can give them the boost to perform at the level we know they’re capable of and work toward reducing the disparities observed in student outcomes.”
Which brings us back to that playing field, and allowing every student an equal chance to get the ball over the goal line.