Response to “The Gap According to Black”

I think we need to be careful about what we assume when we are talking about students of color in the schools. The children of color in our schools include a growing number of children whose parents, regardless of racial or ethnic identity, are highly educated with degrees ranging from the BA/BS levels to PhD, law, and medical degrees. Many have attended schools or come from communities with high numbers of professionals of African American, Latino/a, Asian American, or American Indian heritage. As our businesses and higher educational institutions hire more diverse professionals, we will see more children of color from middle and upper income families.
Children of color with highly educated parents historically have had trouble getting access to advanced educational opportunities regardless of their academic preparation or ability. And we are seeing a concurrent relocation to private schools, suburbs, and other cities because the parents have every bit as high expectation for their children as any other parents.
We also need to take a look at ALL children – including low income and/or children of color – when we are planning for advanced academic opportunities and placement in our schools. According to an MMSD study a few years ago, a significant portion of our high school drop outs are African American males who tested at the high end of the scale at the elementary level.

MMSD Withdrawal/Did Not Graduate Student Data
(1995 – 1999)

When the District analyzed dropout data for this five year period, they identified four student profiles. One of these groups, it could be argued, would have benefited from appropriately challenging learning opportunities, opportunities which might have kept them engaged in school and enabled them to graduate.

Group 1: High Achiever, Short Tenure, Behaved

This group comprises 27% of all dropouts during this five-year period.
Characteristics of this group:
• Grade 5 math scores 84.2 percentile
• Male 55%
• Low income 53%
• Minority 42%
• African American 31%
• Hispanic 6%
• Asian 5%
Group 1 dropouts (expressed as the % of total dropouts for that school)

High School
East 25.9%
La Follette 23.8%
Memorial 23.4%
West 32.4%

We all – including the Madison School Board – need to ask whether we are doing enough to identify and provide opportunities for gifted and talented youth among children of color or children from low income backgrounds. Then we need to create sufficient classes and class space to allow ALL children who are capable of succeeding access to the highest level of classes possible. Creating false shortages for advanced academics helps no one, from individual students to entire schools.
Many of our schools now enroll populations that are 40% – 60% students of color. To have advanced classses with only a few – if any – students drawn from this potential talent pool, defies the statistical odds for the population. We can change this if, as a school community, we have the will to do so and the courage to talk openly about our priorities, practices, and assumptions.

3 thoughts on “Response to “The Gap According to Black””

  1. Thank you for talking about this Lucy! This is precisely why, when we talk about EQUITY, we need to ensure that the schools that have higher percentages of economically disadvantaged students, and higher percentages of students of color, have an EQUITABLE level of advanced academics as their “upscale” counterparts. At the same time, we don’t “dumb down” a school of higher achievers, we embrace them.
    Our poorer schools spend a disproportionate amount of resources on social work, psychology, and related support, which, in turn, prohibits them from spending resources on advancement for all of their student population.

  2. Lucy,
    Thanks for reminding folks about these data. One should note that these data are from the latter half of the 1990s, a time when the MMSD had significantly fewer minorities and poor students than it does now. Thus, the over-representation of poor and African-American students in this high-achieving group of dropouts is quite statistically significant. Also noteworthy is that West HS had a significantly greater % of their dropouts in this category than did the other 3 high schools. What are the reasons for this? What can we do to improve the situation? Lucy, is there any mechanism by which we can get the data for 2000-2004 to see whether things are getting worse or better?

  3. Interesting Discussion. Speaking from an elementary school perspective, however, I would disagree with the idea that social work, pyschology and support services come at the expense of advancement of the general student population. Quite the opposite. These are the very resources that allow teachers to stay focused on instruction. In the absence of professional staff able to make parent contacts; communicate with social service teams outside the building; or provide service to a student who needs to be out of the classroom, I would be spending significantly less of my time teaching, and significantly more of it on the phone or handling difficulties that a particular student or two are having. When I am not teaching, then the ratio on our instructional team goes from 1 teacher:14 students, to 1 teacher:21 students.
    Regarding the West statistics from 10 years ago…I wasn’t there. However, as a West student 20 years ago, I would say that the experiences of the “definitely college bound” were quite different than the experiences of students who were less certain of their direction in life and/or who were certain that they were not college bound. My experience, as a definitely college bound student was generally positive–I found it easy to get help from teachers and guidance counselors and whatever trouble I got into was generally dismissed without significant consequence. For many of my friends, the experience was quite different. Nothing they did was ever overlooked, their requests for assistance were generally dismissed, and some of the comments made to, and about them, were shameful–particularly coming from educators.
    I hope that a lot has changed over the last 20 years (especially as I look ahead to my own children attending the school), just as I hope the things that I loved about West have survived. However, given the amount of fingerpointing and self righteousness that seems to anchor discussions about our schools, it would appear that we continue to be more invested in our polarized perspectives than in anything else. That’s unfortunate. Given that we live in a diverse world with diverse perspectives, insistence on one right answer/approach automatically excludes/alienates those with a different answer or approach. Those who feel alienated and excluded are less likely to see the value in sticking around.

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