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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

The Achievement Gap and NF

Two Really Interesting Articles and What They Mean to Us

Surely you must all have seen some version of this article:www.nytimes.com/2009/04/29/education/29scores.html
The basic thrust is that the gap in test scores shows some differences depending on which ages and grades you are discussing, but the only moment where the white/minority gap really closed was in the 60s and 70s when integreation really began. Since then no programs have helped. Indeed while NCLB had as its mission and mandate the closing of that gap in the younger grades, there is not much evidence of progress there. And any gains made in the younger years are lost in high school.  Now the the NCLB advocates say this proves they were right — they focused on the younger years,  and that is where there has been some gain. But then an expert on black kids who do very well says, in that Times piece,  that the key is support, extra after school help, challenges that help the kids improve in math and reading outside of the classroom.

All of this brings me to nonfiction and to us. Today I am in Normal, Illiniois teaching 9th graders — I’m here for the week. They read my book Race, and I am helping them write research papers. This is great for me — I meet and get to know my readers. I think it is good for them, they have an author who writes books help them write mini-books: research papers. Last week I was doing professional development for teachers in New York. These experiences reinforce my sense that we who write nonfiction have two gifts to give schools: we can inspire and help train teachers — giving them a deeper sense of our subjects. And we can help kids, adrift in popular culture, in the now,  to get a sense of where things came from, how we got to here, where we are likely to go. In other words, we can supply some of that support — in person and in our work — that kids need. 

Deb Hansen in Florida posted a comment that her principal wants to begin using trade nonfiction in 3rd to 5th grade, to give teachers a break from the textbooks. That’s a step, the start of a recognition of what our books can do. U High here in Normal inviting me out is another — a recognition that an author has something to offer beyond his text. It seems to me we have to get beyond the book, the blog,  the reading, the signing, even the school visit to the school relationship — where we who try to make the past, and the world, and nature, interesting to kids become part of the support team that engages those kids who the schools are not serving. We are not just writers, we are thinkers, explorers, creators, people filled with curiosity — and all of that is what we want to bring to kids, to inspire them, to show them that all of history belongs to them and relates to them. 

There is much more to say about this gap — what do you think, what do you see in working with kids, what can we all do to address it?