“If black kids are not achieving, the first thing we have to look at is how educated are the parents and what emphasis are they putting on education.” (Educator Howard) Ransom said. “It is time for the African American community and parents to ‘man up’ and begin to refocus priorities as it pertains to education.”
“If you want to place the blame somewhere, place it on the parents,” he said. “It is the responsibility of the parent to make sure the child comes to school prepared to learn.”
“Who is the first teacher? The parent. You have to be actively engaged in your child’s education.”
by Chico C. Norwood | Staff Writer L.A. WATTS TIMES
6 January 2009 -- The learning gap between African American students and every other ethnic group is widening, experts say. According to the California Department of Education, black students continue to fall through the cracks and trail their white, Asian and Hispanic counterparts in learning.
“In the past many people have played ostrich and tried to look north,” said California State Superintendent Jack O’Connell during a recent media briefing on the achievement gap and African American students.
“The achievement gap is real.” O’Connell said over the last six years test scores for all students have improved. "We have seen that all of our schools … (are) moving in the right direction,” he said.
However, despite the improvement in test scores, O’Connell added “we have not been successful in closing that achievement gap.”Less than 30 percent of black students can read, write and do math at their grade level, compared to more than 60 percent of white and Asian students, according to the results from the 2006 California Standards Test.
The test gauges academic progress of students from the 2nd to 11th grades.
Black students trailed all other racial groups in English Language Arts with just 22.9 percent testing proficient and 21.6 percent testing proficient in math. "We have had no success on narrowing the achievement gap for the last six years in English Language Arts for African Americans,” O’Connell said.
“It’s been a 31 percent differential six years in a row.” While the official dropout rate for California sits at 21.5 percent, the dropout rate for African Americans is 36.2 percent.
Over the past two years, O’Connell has made closing the achievement gap a top priority.
In 2007, he launched a statewide initiative to close the achievement gap.
The initiative included developing and implementing a specific plan that included establishing the California P-16 Council.
The council is a “statewide assembly of education, business and community leaders charged with developing strategies to better coordinate, integrate and improve education for all students from preschool through college,” according to the state department. It also has the responsibility of providing recommendations on what the state can do differently to assist local education agencies in closing the gap.
Additionally, O’Connell set up a P-16 Unit within the department of education to assist the council in its work .After extensive information gathering, surveys with teachers, students and families, a variety of community forums and town hall meetings, the council came up with 14 recommendations.
“Unlike many reports, this is not the door stop; this one’s not collecting dust,” O’Connell said. “All of the recommendations have been implemented or are in the process of being implemented.”
One recommendation calls for access to high-quality, pre-kindergarten programs for those who need it. As a result of the recommendation, two pieces of legislation have been signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that will open more preschool slots at quality preschools to more students that need the help the most, O’Connell said.
Eric Lee, executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference – Los Angeles, said some aspects of the council findings are relevant, but they do not address the real problems. “The whole achievement gap can be attributed to the teacher-quality gap in the inner city compared to suburban schools,” he said.
“In the inner cities they have as much as a 60-percent turnover rate. You also have many first- and second-year teachers and non-credential teachers. So the quality of teaching is the issue. You cannot close the achievement gap if you do not close the teacher-quality gap and they are not talking about that.”
Lee, who is in the process of producing a documentary about the achievement gap among black students that is expected to be released in the coming months, said the fiscal funding formula used by school districts is also one of the biggest contributing factors to the gap.
According to Lee and a report by The Education Trust-West called “Hidden Teacher-Spending Gaps in the Los Angeles Unified School District,” money that is specifically designated, by law, to generate the achievement of low-income students is diverted from inner-city schools and students most in need.
Funds are sent to schools in more affluent and advantaged areas.
“The greater expenses are in the suburban areas when the greatest need is in the inner city,” he said. “The money doesn’t follow the child in the district funding formula.”
Howard Ransom — who has been an LAUSD educator for more than 20 years, has taught in college, and operated a charter school — said there is no excuse for the achievement gap among blacks. Ransom said the problem rests in the fact that the black community is not putting an emphasis on education.
He said the black community, as a group, does not view the achievement gap as being of “significant importance.” “In white and Asian cultures, education is extremely important, and so there is a responsibility there for the kids to do well,” he said.
“If black kids are not achieving, the first thing we have to look at is how educated are the parents and what emphasis are they putting on education.” Ransom said it is time for the African American community and parents to “man up” and begin to refocus priorities as it pertains to education.
“If you want to place the blame somewhere, place it on the parents,” he said. “It is the responsibility of the parent to make sure the child comes to school prepared to learn. “Who is the first teacher? The parent. You have to be actively engaged in your child’s education.”
He added that African American parents must have as much a vested interest in their child’s education as they do in their child’s performance on the athletic field, where African Americans outperform other ethnic groups. According to New American Media, local author and commentator Earl Ofari Hutchinson said media, including black media, focused on negative stories about African American students, stereotyping all black students as underachievers and undermining their self-esteem.
As an example of success stories, he cited Community Harvest Charter School in Los Angeles. The school opened in September 2002 with a student body made up of roughly 48 percent African Americans and 48 percent Latino students, according to Amount of Harvest’s first three graduating classes, 84 percent of students were accepted into universities such as University of Southern California; University of California, Los Angeles; University of California, Berkeley; and Georgetown.
He said that U.S. News & World Report listed the school as one of the top high schools in the nation, but it received only a very small write-up in a local black newspaper.
• New American Media writer Kenneth Kim contributed to this report.