Headlines I’d Like to See

School District failing Black, Hispanic, and American Indian Students in Droves: 2009 Equity report card documents how students of color consistently learn less, are punished and pushed out more, and experience a culture of bias and harassment while at school.

No, this was not the front page story in today’s Register Guard. But it should have been.

Yesterday I dropped in on a local school district board meeting where there was a presentation by a standing committee on equity issues within the district. This annual equity report was dismal and not unlike that of years and years of prior data.

I think this summarizing quote from the committee chair really captured my thoughts as I reviewed slide after slide of disturbing inequitable trends and outcomes for the communities children:

For those of you who are new, and as a reminder to those of you who aren’t, the data that was just presented looks too much like the data that we were looking at when the first equity report card was presented seven or eight years ago. Outcomes for African-American, Latino and Native American students continue to be unconscionably lower than those of their White and Asian Peers. Many of us on the Equity Committee have sat around tables talking about these discrepancies for a decade, in some cases as long as 25 years.

The data presented did indeed indicate that large segments of the districts students of color (identified as Black, Hispanic, and American Indian) were charted as disadvantaged on all learning outcomes in comparison to their White, Multi-ethnic and Asian peers. The gap in learning was marked by an initial data point in the third grade where there was a full 10% drop in achievement for these racial groups in comparison to their white and Asian peers. And then all the more disturbing, there was a sharp decline over the preceding years so that by the 10th grade that gap between the groups was a full 40%.

While reviewing the data I had a momentary thought experiment, what would happen if those chart had shown white boys on a steep learning decline in comparison to their gender and racially disadvantaged peers. Oh wait, that happened and we had headline after headline, book after book on the boy crisis, and the hand wringing still has not stopped.

This boy crisis still crops up in headlines today even as the trends have all been debunked and disaggregated.  Even as the decline has been proven to not be a universal male decline at all, but rather another racialized decline, as well as an increase in female achievement unrelated to male performance.

But I digress. The point of my wandering thoughts was to ponder how this house on fire, the failure to care for, protect, or educate entire segments of the student population can be seemingly ignored by the general public.

To have a child’s racial identity be predictive her reading and math skills, drop out status, suspension and expulsion probability is so profoundly undemocratic I feel a sort of dysphoria each time I am confronted with this persistent fact of our society.

To have an equity committee report that they have been charting and reporting on this same disparity for seven years with little fanfare is to suggest that this is the accepted norm for a school district and the community it represents and serves.

And to have one board member question the committee in all earnestness;  “How are we to generate interest and concern among the larger community?”  Generate interest ?!?!  Sadly no, this district report card is not headline news, nor is the situation a house on fire to the general community.

Well I disagree.  I’d like to believe that the headline I posted above would provoke a discussion that needs to happen on a larger scale.    Where a child’s possible future is being so clearly damaged and derailed there is no place for silence or acceptance.  Though this is no momentary crisis – I think each occasion to point to the inequality ought to be a headline.  An opportunity to set off the alarm again and again.

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2 responses to “Headlines I’d Like to See

  1. Peter

    I have been a member of the 4J district’s equity committee on and off for 10 years. The committee’s origin was part of a response to a gross injustice done to a student in 4J. I have observed the equity committee morph from being a forum to support the voices of the outraged community.

    Currently our committee is entrenched with data; we aide in the collection of an ever more refined picture of exactly and to what magnitude we fail kids in the aggregate. Where individual stories in the past created heartache but no specific action, we cleave to significant figures and effect sizes to direct our efforts into those interventions that really make a difference for kids of color.

    The problem with the premise of a headline about failure is that statistics don’t sell newspapers. A better headline would follow the story of the young man about whom the equity committee was first fashioned. While the committee has emerged from the crucible as a lean, mean data based league of justice, the young man sits alone with his thoughts tonight and every night. I think of you often, brother, and wonder how your are making sense of the brutal world around you.

    • jheffern

      I am painfully reminded how the UO students were pushed to prove their experiences with data a few years back. I could see the deft move there to start a nice long study to find significant figures.

      The funny thing for me when I see those statistics, like you I do see the faces and know the stories so I just multiply them by 40 percent and then I cry.

      And when I see a quorum of four? five? community members aside from the committee present for this report…
      And that the community members I know who potentially could rally more of a public showing are on the committee…
      this gives me pause.

      I don’t sleep well either.