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Achievement Gap Examined at Second Annual Conference

Members of the education community gathered at Harvard on June 19 and 20 for the second annual Achievement Gap Initiative conference, "Defining the Achievement Gap Challenge." Over two provocative days, funders, activists, practitioners, public school officials, policy makers, and media met to discuss research and studies, and to brainstorm ways to overcome the nation's racial and ethnic achievement gap.

The Achievement Gap Initiative (AGI) is a university-wide, multidisciplinary effort to focus academic research, public education, and innovative outreach activities toward eliminating achievement gaps in education. Funding for the AGI is provided in part by Time Warner Inc.

In a standing-room-only event at the Wiener Auditorium at the Kennedy School of Government's Taubman Building, researchers examined the achievement gap issue for students from birth through adulthood. Day one provided conference participants with insight into why we can and must narrow achievement gaps, and ways in which our home and institutional lifestyles, as well as our schooling and public policies, affect achievement gaps. Other areas highlighted were the "acting white" phenomenon and the affect of parenting.

"Kids hold back from doing well if they think they're going to be accused of acting white," said Ronald Ferguson, lecturer in public policy at the Kennedy School. However, research shows that black students are more likely to be categorized as "acting white" based on their style or the music they listen to than on getting good grades.

On the conference's second day, researchers from around the nation met with one another in four sessions. Topics discussed were Measuring Achievement, Calibrating Gaps and Monitoring Progress; How Identity and Culture Affect Achievement Gaps; What Raises Achievement and Narrows Gaps (or not) in Schools; and What Raises Achievement and Narrows Gaps (or not) in Non-School Hours.

The conference allowed participants to openly share and express their thoughts on the achievement gap, as well as ways to join together to overcome issues facing the community.

"The conference provided a forum for informative and frank conversations about some of the most important issues our country faces," said AGI cochair Richard Murnane, Thompson Professor and academic dean at HGSE. "I think everyone left with renewed energy to tackle the AGI problems, tempered by sobering realization about how deeply rooted and multifaceted the problems are."

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