Can fewer academic opportunities close achievement gap?

Like many places, there’s an achievement gap between white students and students of color in Duluth Public Schools.

So when the school system debated getting rid of “zero hour,” the achievement gap was invoked as a reason to eliminate the early hour before the day’s classes begin during which students can pursue whatever academic or extracurricular activity they choose.

It’s entirely voluntary in a school that has only six official periods (the seventh period fell victim to budget cuts years ago), so the school system doesn’t get reimbursement from the state. And no transportation is offered.

That fact, apparently, is a good reason to go ahead with plans to eliminate the opportunity, according to today’s article in the Duluth News Tribune. If no transportation is offered, it’s not really open to all students, and helps sustain the achievement gap.

“Not every student can access zero hour,” Superintendent Bill Gronseth said, who noted he would prefer to take things a step further and eliminate all zero hour offerings, including the music groups, possibly turning them to club status as other districts have done.

“By adding zero hour, you make a seven-period day for some kids. … We’ve spent a lot of time and energy addressing the achievement gap. Providing additional opportunities for some kids broadens that achievement gap,” he said.

Curriculum director Mike Cary gave the example of two students maxing out on credits during the regular day, and receiving identical grades throughout their high school careers. But if one had added credits from zero hour, he said, that student would have the advantage in terms of scholarship earning, he said.

Member Art Johnston said the issue wasn’t about equity, as administration was saying, but about the district’s deficit.

Common sense says he’s right. If you’re really concerned about an achievement gap, you focus efforts on providing academic support to those not getting it, not taking it away from those who are.

Maybe you even restore the seventh period that was taken away earlier.

“I’m a ride hopper,” Denfeld junior Kylie Shea told the school board at a meeting last night. “If you really need the credits and you are willing you can get yourself there.”

No decision was made about eliminating the “zero hour” at last night’s meeting. A final decision on the budget will be made next month.