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Articles by Dr. Vern Minor

Are Our Children in Jeopardy?

Teacher & Training Tips

Are Our Children in Jeopardy?

Dr. Vern Minor
Director of Educational leadership

To cite this article: Minor, V. Are Our Children in Jeopardy? Kagan Online Magazine, Issue #60. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. www.KaganOnline.com

I suspect all of us have watched the game show Jeopardy! at some point in our lives. Let’s play one fictional round of Jeopardy!.

Category: All Means All
Alex Trebek: “The ongoing disparity in learning between subgroups of students in America’s schools.”
Contestant: “What is the achievement gap?”

The achievement gap. As a profession, we have been talking about narrowing this gap since the 1966 Coleman Report, the product of the survey that was authorized by the Civil Rights Acts of 1964. While many educators took exception to some of the conclusions drawn in the report, it did serve as a catalyst for much of the discussion we have today regarding equity in education.

1966. That’s over five decades ago. While I would certainly contend that the education children receive today is stronger than it was 50 years ago, a single fact remains that cannot be disputed—inequities still exist. How can achievement gaps continue in this country after 50 years of reform? Over the last five decades, we have spent countless time, energy, and resources on trying to narrow gaps. Why are subgroups of children continuing to perform below standards? There are undoubtedly a myriad of reasons why gaps remain; however, I would contend that there is a primary explanation for why the disparities persist.

We have never gotten serious about instruction.

Don’t misunderstand me. A tremendous amount of good has come from educational reform efforts. A monumental amount of work has been initiated in areas such as curriculum, assessment, and classroom management. However, despite all of the good we have accomplished, let’s be honest. Instructional practices have changed little over the last 50 years.

How we teach may very well be more important in the lives of children than what we teach.

I have asked teachers for years, “What is the predominant room arrangement for students’ desks across our country?” The answer I invariably receive is, “Rows.” I have also asked teachers for years, “What is the most prevalent teaching method used in classrooms across our country?” The most common answer is, “Lecture.” For the most part, we teach like we were taught. Schools today—especially in the realm of pedagogy—closely resemble schools of the past. Teaching like our predecessors guarantees that achievement gaps will result.

I understand why we have been evasive when it comes to mandating that educators teach in a specific manner. The notion of “academic freedom” runs deep in the culture of education. Furthermore, we did not know for a long time what instructional practices positively impacted achievement. In an age of reform, we have had to explore what works and what does not.

However, we now know instructional strategies that narrow achievement gaps, and these can no longer be optional for teachers. John Hattie made it clear to practitioners when he noted, “It is what learners do that matters. So often learners become passive recipients of teachers’ lessons…the aim is to make students active in the learning process” (page 37).

As long as the teacher is the most active person in a classroom, some students will learn and others will not. We have decades of research to demonstrate that traditional whole group instruction (i.e., teachers talking to a passive audience) results in achievement gaps. We must not use strategies that only invite or encourage students to become active in the classroom. Instead, we must embrace pedagogy—like cooperative learning—that ensures all students are fully engaged with our content. Only then will we be able to reduce achievement gaps.

Let’s return to our Jeopardy! round again. This time, however, let’s add the special feature that is a part of this game show.

Category: Equity and Excellence
Alex Trebek: “DAILY DOUBLE! How much are you willing to wager?”

For those unfamiliar with Jeopardy!, if the contestant lands on the Daily Double, he can wager any sum of money he wants from his current winnings. If the contestant gets the answer right, he is rewarded with whatever was wagered. If the contestant is wrong, that same amount is deducted from the person’s total.

This is the question facing educators today: What are we willing to wager? The stakes are much higher for educators than they are for game show contestants. Our stakes are children’s lives. If we are not careful, our pedagogy can put children in jeopardy (i.e., in danger of being lost). It is time we make instruction a priority. How we teach may very well be more important in the lives of children than what we teach. Let’s keep children out of jeopardy by embracing and implementing research based pedagogy that ensures all children are fully engaged in learning. When we do that, gaps will narrow.


Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning. New York, NY: Routledge.