Excellence in education is the real goal even though the “achievement gap” for Black students gets the press. Apparently, neither is a moral nor educational imperative for Black adults or the education establishment. Black students locally and across the nation remain the lowest achievers (even below English learners), with barely a whimper from parents or other Black stakeholders.
In Los Angeles, low achievement is further compounded by major demographic changes, i.e., the huge in-migration of Latino students who within a relatively short time, manage to score above Blacks on most tests. Consequently, the Black child, already on the bottom, tends to receive even less attention and resources in predominantly English-learner classrooms.
There has long been a critical need to provide quality education for Black students. However, judging from the abominably poor participation of Black parents in particular, the uninformed might conclude, erroneously, that Black students are doing well and don’t require special attention. Nothing could be further from the truth!
Ostensibly to close the achievement gap between Whites and “minority” students, the state has adopted new rules and schools are now required to make measurable progress towards closing the achievement gap. Penalties for non-compliance are not crystal clear but under the new, cumbersome regulations (federal No Child Left Behind especially), some lowest achieving schools are actually getting worse.
The new state regulations were adopted at a time when the Bush administration’s “No Child Left Behind” initiative was falling further and further behind its stated goal under increasingly tougher requirements. No Child Left Behind is supposed to have every child academically proficient by 2014; many school districts still don’t seem to have a clue as to how to accomplish this.
The response to the new federal and state educational initiatives by Blacks is barely discernible. The same deafening silence greeted the Los Angeles Unified School District’s adoption of the African American Learner Initiative—the first district-wide program to focus exclusively on Black students. However, the initiative was changed internally by the district, without public notice, “An Action Plan for a Culturally Relevant Education That Benefits African American Students and All Other Students.” Again, there was barely a response from Blacks, within or outside of LAUSD to the watered-down version.
Unfortunately, poor adult/community participation in the struggle to provide quality education for Black children is evidenced in their failure to participate in other key areas that affect their lives as well as their own. The price for failing to also challenge negative conditions in social, political and economic arenas is steep, and in too many cases, failure to do so, reprehensible. Yet, pervasive Black inaction persists and is most often the norm.
Given that educating Black children has never been a top priority, can anything be done about it? Yes, but sustainable solutions mean changes in values, priorities and strategies. In addition, a substantive shift from prevailing, individual/materialistic mind-sets to a broader, group focus is crucial.
Needed change also means reassessing the roles of key players in the education process i. e., students, parents, teachers, administration and local communities. Many school staff still consider Black students inherently inferior, virtually guaranteeing many will receive inadequate treatment in the classroom. Most teacher training and recruitment programs deal only superficially, if at all, with whether prospective teachers can relate to poor Black children, in particular.
Helping students to achieve excellence means teachers themselves must feel and behave differently, caring is not enough. New behavior must be based on clear criteria and explicit ‘buy in” (consensus) regarding the purpose of the particular endeavor. Commitment and effectiveness are assessed through actions not proclamations.
Challenging the educational system is a daunting task made even tougher because Blacks inside the system generally fail to speak out or take risks necessary to deal with issues affecting Black students. Skirting problems characterizes both the public and private sector. Black educators behavior tends to perpetuate conditions inimitable not only to Black students’, but their own interests as well.
Assisting Black students achieve educational excellence (including closing the achievement gap) is a moral imperative. The question is not whether, but how to help these students; the moral imperative requires new levels of Black commitment and collaboration across class lines- an increasingly difficult challenge. Greater participation by a reticent Black middle-class, for instance, would assist immeasurably in providing a quality education for Black children.
Unity is the key. School boards, administrators and teachers can no longer be permitted to shirk responsibility to provide a quality education for Black students. A continuation of the educational status quo will further cripple our youth and per force, our future.
Larry Aubry n can be contacted at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.