Several themes have emerged throughout the work of our Task Force and subsequent meetings to engage the community, our teachers, and our principals.
Addressing gaps in achievement first requires a focus on opportunity gaps.
As mentioned in the summary, there was considerable conversation among Task Force members about the term, “Achievement Gap” and what it may indirectly imply about our students. Our goal is to work with intention and close the gap between where our students of color are currently scoring and where we believe they can and should score – at high levels on any measure we may use. To some, “Achievement Gap” inherently implies that our students are the cause of a problem, rather than a victim of circumstances – in school and society - that have systemically failed them in large numbers. The Task Force prefers the term, “Opportunity Gaps” as a focus for our work, believing that closing these gaps, through shared responsibility and ownership, will lead to greater achievement for all students.
For our work to be successful, “quick wins” are a must.
Given the history of black achievement in our district – and the need for a third plan in 25 years to address gaps in achievement – it is imperative that our current plan leads to noticeable, immediate action and results. Many in our community, including some staff members, are skeptical that any significant change will result from our work. Skepticism among African Americans is understandably high, especially for those who’ve been working for change across several decades and feel the system has failed far too many students of color.
The socioeconomic status of students has a significant impact on student learning – but we cannot address racial disparities without having purposeful conversations about race.
The Task Force recognizes the widening opportunity gap that exists between students of higher and lower income families and the impact finances have on student achievement. Numerous studies support this relationship; a recent Education Week article (5/11/16) on achievement gaps in affluent communities even included the Kirkwood School District among their examples. We firmly believe, however, that African American achievement gaps cannot be explained away by focusing solely on issues of wealth or poverty. If we are to achieve meaningful change, we must attend to courageous conversations around race, privilege, and equity for all.
Aggressive outreach will be critical if we are to succeed.
There are many in our community who possess great talents, wisdom, and a passion for a better tomorrow. Many of these people will likely offer their support if they understand there is a need and a sincere interest in their services. Far too many people, however – especially African Americans within our community – have been marginalized over the years by experiences or rhetoric and feel disconnected from our district and the work of our schools. We cannot truly achieve meaningful change without actively listening to and learning from others. If we are to develop a sense of shared ownership in what could be, we cannot wait for others to come to us. We must actively and aggressively reach out to them.
There must be a sense of urgency to our work.
Meaningful change takes time, and often resources, and the Task Force recognizes the significant task at hand. Developing a plan is much easier than implementing the plan, but we cannot afford to ignore systematic issues that are plaguing many students of our district. We must approach our work with a sense of urgency, realizing the costs of not doing the work are simply too important to ignore. Our students deserve only our best, each and every day.