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Closing the Achievement Gap: High-Achieving High Schools that Serve Underrepresented Students


The persistence of the achievement gap poses a challenge to a merit-based school system. Its existence supports social scientists’ assertions that schools inevitably recreate or reproduce the existing social hierarchy. Growing evidence counters this view, however, showing that particular school features and conditions can act as mediations that help reduce the achievement gap. This study examines four southern California high schools with proven success in reducing the achievement gap to better understand which school features and conditions are most important to improving achievement among underrepresented students. Findings support Oakes’ (2003) Seven Critical Conditions for College Access and suggest seven additional features: strong student–teacher rapport, effective teaching strategies (especially cooperative learning and differentiation), combination schools (combining high schools with middle and elementary schools), smaller schools, high expectations, rigorous and accessible course offerings, and time for teachers to plan together. A contrast of traditional schools and charter schools suggests that there are a few advantages for each school model: traditional schools offer have more resources and more course choices; charter schools offer greater flexibility over school structure, more teacher autonomy over pedagogy and curriculum, and more local control over hiring and firing school personnel.

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