Every time state schools chief Jack O’Connell thought he was doing something to close the achievement gap, a new round of test scores showed that black and Latino students had gained no ground on their white and Asian American peers.
Like many educators, O’Connell assumed the culprit was poverty. Then he noticed an even wider ethnic disparity among students who were not poor.
The realization was a jolt: Being black or Latino – not poor – was what the low-scorers had in common. And it changed everything.
O’Connell now believes that widespread cultural ignorance within the California school system is responsible for the poor academic performance of many black and Latino students in school.
He offered the example of black children who learn at church that it’s good to clap, speak loudly and be a bit raucous. But doing the same thing at school, where 72 percent of teachers are white and may be unfamiliar with such customs, will get them in trouble, he said.