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January 19, 2006

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.

Posted by Lucy Mathiak at January 19, 2006 8:48 AM
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