Leapfrogging Inequality

“If we teach students the same way as yesterday, we rob them of tomorrow.”

 John Dewey

Leapfrogging Inequality. New data demonstrates that there has never been a more urgent need for a paradigm shift in education, especially for marginalized and low-income students. The economic intersectionality of technological advances, race, age, gender, geography, and education level will have compounding effects on the economic disadvantages already faced by African Americans and other minorities in urban as well as rural areas. For example, one critical disrupter will be the rapid and ubiquitous adoption of automation and other digital technologies by companies worldwide. According to estimates from the McKinsey Global Institute, companies have already invested between $20 billion and $30 billion in artificial intelligence technologies and applications. African Americans, who already start from a distinctly disadvantaged position in the workforce with an unemployment rate twice that of white workers, are especially vulnerable to the disruptive forces. African Americans are often over-represented in the “support roles” that are most likely to be affected by automation, such as truck drivers, fast food service workers, and office clerks.

If current trends in education are not addressed, African Americans will have a higher rate of job displacement than workers in other segments of the U.S. population due to rising automation, gaining a smaller share of the net projected job growth between 2017 and 2030. By 2030, the employment outlook for African Americans—particularly men, younger workers (ages 18–35), and those without a college degree—may worsen dramatically. These trends will have a significantly negative effect on the income generation, wealth, and stability of African American families for generations.

It is not clear in the current fast-paced social and global economy exactly what skills youth of today will need tomorrow to thrive and become constructive citizens. Future workers will, however, need to be well equipped with a range of soft skills as well as academic skills to face this uncertainty. These skills include reading texts critically, problem solving, collaborating across cultures and networks, communicating effectively, and adapting quickly to new forces affecting the economy, society, and the natural environment.

The Alexandria Project addresses the deep inequality in educational opportunity and inadequate skills development experienced by marginalized and low-income students while simultaneously broadening what students learn in preparation for the global economy of the future.

The Alexandria Project goes beyond teaching students the requisite math, science, and reading skills and teaches them how to solve problems, communicate effectively, think critically, and challenge assumptions. Students need to be able to regulate their own emotions, work collaboratively, and think creatively. And they need to have agency over their own learning.

The underlying assumption, whether cognizant of non-cognizant, in even the most well-intentioned education reform programs aimed at closing the racial achievement gap, is that there is something wrong with these students  -something that needs to be fixed. The underlying presuppositions manifest in a conspicuous lack of advanced STEM curriculum and innovative technologies and a focus on traditional antiquated curriculum and discipline.

For example, KIPP Bayview Academy, a 5-8 grade school in the San Francisco Unified School District, is heralded as one of the top 7 “new” programs addressing the racial achievement gap in the United States. KIPP is one of many new high-expectations, high-support schools  serving marginalized and low-income students.

The students at attending this school are predominantly low-income African American students. When passing from class to class or to the cafeteria, students walk in single file lines in absolute silence. Talking is prohibited. In their classrooms, communicating with each other is also prohibited. They sit passively, not discussing concepts or topics, not disagreeing and learning to listen, not developing communication, problem solving, collaboration, or critical thinking skills, while teachers do the antiquated “Sage on the Stage” form of teaching. The Director and teachers claim that they are preparing their students for college.

Yet overall, the school receives a Great Schools Academic rating of 4/10. Test scores at this school fall below the state average. In math the student subject proficiency score is 33% and in English 39%, well below state averages. This suggests that most students at this school are not performing at grade level – let alone on track to successfully enter college. Over 200 charter schools across the U.S.  have adopted this school model to help traditionally underserved students prepare for college.

Frequently, attempts to solve the racial achievement gap problem undermine solutions for another problem. The schools that have most aggressively tried to close achievement gaps between students of color and white students, for example, have often doubled down on traditional teaching methods and classrooms: teacher-led, compliance-based, and intensely focused on basic academic skills.

At the Alexandria Academy Institute, we honestly believe and have witnessed the innate intelligence (sometimes genius), creativity, and ingenuity of African American, Hispanic, and other marginalized and poor students. The Alexandria Project differs from other programs because we intend to leapfrog marginalized students beyond basic level instruction. Leapfrogging inequality requires alleviating the opportunities gap, transforming teaching and learning, and what we recognize as learning – going well beyond worksheets (paper and digitized) and tests. The Alexandria Project focuses on the following leapfrogging initiatives:

1) Cooperative, Peer-to-Peer Learning. Ample research finds that incorporating student’s interests and agency into learning can improve their knowledge and social and emotional skills. Teachers, therefore, are no longer the “Sage on the Stage,” but “Facilitators of Learning.” Peer-to-Peer learning makes use of pedagogical practices that encourage students to claim agency over the learning process, fosters their natural inquisitiveness, and develops skills required to succeed in the 21st century.

2) Technology for More Effective Learning. The Alexandria Project uses advances in digital technology to extend the reach, efficiency, and creativity of learning opportunities for marginalized students, their parents, and the communities in which they live. The Alexandria Project uses technology to personalize learning while seamlessly collecting data on student performance in real time.

3) Teacher Support, Collaboration, and Professional Development. Research shows that the most effective way to improve learning is by supporting teachers to broaden their skills and knowledge. Interventions related to teachers (rather than class size, or homework, or “learning styles”) are by far the most effective. Teacher support (side-by-side coaching) and professional development opportunities are central to The Alexandria Project.

4) Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and Psycho-social Interventions. The cornerstone interventions of The Alexandria Project’s program include: Growth Mindset and Brain Plasticity training, Culturally Responsive curriculum, Community and Parent inclusion and Counseling.

5) Science-Based Research and Curriculum Development & Delivery. Cognitive Science, Neuroscience, Learning & Memory research, Pedagogical & Adolescent Psychological Theories, Motivation etc., informs all aspects of our program. 

Before you go…

The Alexandria Academy Institute seeks support for developing innovative 6th through 8th grade STEM curricula to effectively leapfrog African American and other at-risk students beyond ineffectual traditional teaching methods and basic level instruction that puts them at a disadvantage in the 21st century global economy. If you think this is an important endeavor – and we are confident you do – please help Alexandria Academy Institute grow with a gift in whatever amount you can afford.

Thank You.