Achievement Gaps and How to Address Them

Hi Friends!
The March for Black Women is being held in DC on September 29. More details are here.
There is a screening of America to Me at Howard University on September 27.
I read an article about an organization in Baltimore called Thread, which creates community support networks around vulnerable youth in a unique way. I think there are some amazing community organizing ideas there, especially the part about being willing to be vulnerable.
The ACLU sent out this amazing tool about mass incarceration that focuses on strategies in all 50 states for reducing the number of people we imprison in our country. It’s worth a look!
I spent some time this weekend reading Gaining On The Gap, which was published in 2011 about the attempts in our school district to address the “achievement gap.” I’m only partway through, but there are some very interesting statements, many of which are very encouraging to the work we are trying to do in this group. My initial takeaways:
(1) What we are really trying to change is culture (staff, students, parents, administrators).
(2) The work the schools are doing must be sustained and supported (and advocated for) by the community.
(3) Everyone is responsible for addressing institutional racism and its effects on our future generations.
(4) Social-economic status differences do NOT account for the racial/ethnic achievement disparities on SOL tests. This came from pages 44–45 about how many would argue that schools couldn’t change disparities because the disparities were caused by social-economic status (SES) differences. The exact quote that I drew my conclusion from states, “These arguments were contradicted in 1999 by analyses of Arlington SOL results, which indicated that even after controlling for SES, racial differences on achievement test results persisted.”
(5) “…gaps will remain until hearts and minds also change.” (p. 61)
(6) “…we are socially conditioned not just to see but also to attach value to race. From and early age, we are far from ‘color blind’ …, although we may be ‘color mute’.” (p. 65)
(7) Expectations (of everyone involved, including the students themselves) are key to success.
(8) Monoculture educational environments perpetuate the challenge of learning how to interact with people from other cultures and is why integrated schools are a necessary piece of dismantling institutional racism. This is my own observation reading on page 68 about cultural competence training to address low expectations — “…many or most of us do not currently know but can learn how to interact constructively with those from other cultures.”
(9) “Because there is a dominant culture in schools, a culture that reflects the dominant culture of society, one task must be to enable all students to become proficient in that culture — it is the culture of power and success. Emphasizing respect for students’ own cultures while they are taught proficiency in the dominant culture, however, is an essential aspect of communicating the respect for who they are and their inherent ability that forms the basis for high expectations.” (p.69)
Two things I should say:
(1) There may have been more recent studies that provide more nuance since this book was published.
(2) My statement might have been too definitive — social-economic factors are relevant, certainly, but do not explain away the disparities — those persist and are based on race/ethnicity.
I’ll keep you posted as I read more. And thanks to all of you who send things my way — I’m so impressed by the involvement of our community members in addressing issues of equity in so many ways!
Some upcoming events:
(1) SURJ-NOVA is holding a community potluck meal on Sunday, September 30 at 6 pm at UUCF in Oakton. Children are welcome.
(2) Doorways is celebrating their 40th anniversary with a breakfast celebration on Friday, October 12 at 8:30 am.
(3) The Black Heritage Museum of Arlington’s event has been postponed until October 11.
(4) The NAACP Arlington Branch is having its 71st Freedom Fund Banquet on Saturday, October 13. Tim Kaine will be the keynote speaker!
(5) A reminder that the school district is having a Community Meeting to kick off the fall elementary school boundary process on Wednesday, September 26 at 7:00 pm. You can also watch live online.
Over the weekend, the SPLC highlighted the 55th anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Ala. in 1963. They made special mention of the column Gene Patterson wrote, which was published the next day, and it is worth a read.
Also, if you haven’t read about Botham Jean’s murder in Texas, please take the time to read up on the latest example of our white supremacist system in action.
Listen. Amplify. Follow.

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