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Can We Close The Achievement Gap? This Man Says "Yes!"

M. Donnell Tenner, of Roseville, pens book "240 Ways To Close The Achievement Gap."

Once a kid growing up in a welfare family and now a professional educator, M. Donnell Tenner knows firsthand the limitations of the educational system. 

Tenner, an African-American, said he has seen how there is an achievement gap between blacks and Latinos and Caucasian students. The 41-year-old Roseville man is now on a mission to rectify that problem.

Tenner, whose career has included stints serving an elmentary and middle school principal, has penned a self-published book called "240 Ways to Close the Achievement Gap."

"I am passionate about closing the achievement gap for all children," said Tenner, an ex-Canadian football player who has been in education for the last 14 years. (Tenner said he is currently working on a doctoral degree at St. Mary's University and is looking for an administrative position in a small school district.)

That there is an educational achievement gap between white students and those who are blacks and Latino is documented. Forteen months ago, the Minnesota Campaign for Achievement Now (MinnCan) released an analysis of Minnesota’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test scores.

MinnCan said that showed although Minnesota leads the nation in math achievement, "the state’s achievement gap remains exceptionally large compared to other states, particularly in racial and income subgroups."

MinnCan said its analysis shows that:

  • "African American students in fourth and eighth grades are more than three grade levels behind white students in math. 
  • "African American students in fourth and eighth grades are more than two grade levels behind whites in reading" and 
  • In all grade levels, low-income students are more than two grade levels behind their wealthier peers."

Tenner contends the achievement gap is partly the result of a breakdown of community, where often parents are too protective of their children and unwilling to accept the involvement of neighbors and other people to hold kids accountability for their behavior.

For example, many kids have no reluctance about swearing in front of or at adults, Tenner said. "There is a lack of respect for adults."

Tenner believes another problem: Not enough focus on educational basics. "Kids can text and do pictures but can't read or write," he said. 

Another problem, Tenner contended, is that too many teachers are unprepared to work with minority students. They need to have mentors to help them, he said. 

"We need to teach how to build productive relatioships with these kids" Tenner said. "Only after this can true learning take place."

Meanwhile, Tenner said one version of his book is geared towards general readers while another is aimed at teachers only, offering them best practices for closing the achievement gap.  A third version of the book is geared towards administrators and other educational leaders. 

"The achievement gap is not about race but the haves and have nots" Tenner contended in a Patch interview. "I believe in young people. I believe that they can have the American dream and live life more abundantly with the right programs and guidance."

Tenner said that while there has been a plethora of media coverage abourt the achievement gap, few solutions have been tried, and even fewer have succeeded.

Tenner said he has 240 practical steps to close the achievement gap for black and Latino students, the first book of its kind. He sharing many of those ideas in as a blogger for Patch. 

To order Tenner's book: 

Tenner said you can order his book by contacting him at his 240ways@gmail.com. The cost is $10 per copy. 

About M. Donnell Tenner 

A motivational speaker, author, and educational consultant on inner-city youth; Tenner's professional experiences include work as a basketball coach, law enforcement officer, professional football player, and K-12 education administrator. He has worked in schools in the Twin Cities as well as Illinois.

Frank Galton February 16, 2013 at 11:15 PM
"The achievement gap is not about race but the haves and have nots" Tenner contended in a Patch interview. _____________________________________ He is not a serious scholar if he still believes this. The black/white achievement gap is not reducible to socio-economic status. It is about race, not class. He needs to come up with a theory to explain some salient facts. Poor white high school students, those from households in the lowest national decile of income, outscore wealthy black high school students, those from the highest income decile, on the SAT. The racial achievement gap is HIGHEST between upper-income whites and upper-income blacks. Socio-economic parity at the upper end of the spectrum, far from equalizing the achievement gap, seems to widen it. Also, white students whose parents are high school dropouts score higher on the SAT than black students whose parents are college graduates. In other words, black underachievement can't be due solely or even mainly to socio-economic disadvantage, if advantaged blacks learn less in elite schools than disadvantaged whites do in sub-par schools. To my mind, these facts can be explained only in terms of either a cultural (but not monetary) deficit that suppresses the normal development of cognitive ability or else a genetic deficit in cognitive ability.
Thomas Adams February 19, 2013 at 01:22 PM
Mr. Galton, Can you please site the reference materials and research articles that you have used to draw your conclusions? If what you are saying is true, then extremely poor rural white students in the hills and mountains of West Virginia are scoring higher in aptitude tests than the extremely affluent African American students in Maryland. Is this your summation?
MDonnell Tenner February 24, 2013 at 08:16 PM
Frank, I Would love to talk with you over coffee about your theories and thought process on these issues. I enjoy educational conversations that are healthy and challenge all people to re-think how they form conclusions to information that has been gleaned from a vaiety of outlets.
Jo Marie McCarty March 10, 2013 at 05:22 PM
It amazes me that curriculum developers, politicians and educators all admit that the achievement gap exists but have not used the research available to change current practices. Clearly, the curriculum developers have developed curriculum for the advantaged student. Research shows that life experiences, access to books and hearing standard English is the advantage for the average student. However, the system continues to place all students entering school at the same level. Obviously, students who have not had experience with books, standard English or enriching experiences are not ready for the Kindergarten curriculum as written! Instead of brow beating teachers, embarrassing these students and punishing the local school entities- a simple solution would be a tri-level kindergarten program that is tailor made to fill in the gaps and level up those students at each student's own pace. It would be better to have an 8 year old first grade student that is confident and on grade-level than a troubled middle school student who will give up and drop out due to constant frustration levels. A simple and frankly easily implemented, inexpensive system that isn't even considered by the "powers that be".

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