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Black Media Briefed on Achievement Gap for Black Students

New America Media, News Report//Video, Story: Kenneth Kim//Video: Josue Rojas Posted: Dec 25, 2008

LOS ANGELES Journalists, activists, educators, students and elected officials gathered on Dec. 12 to discuss the academic performance of black students in California public schools. They were clear about several things: the achievement gap is ongoing, closing it should be the states top priority, and it takes more than the current education system to achieve it.

The black media roundtable on education issues comes at a time when California, already ranked 47th in the country in per-pupil spending, is considering a $4 billion education budget cut as a solution to the states financial crisis. This could devastate under-achieving students and perpetuate the achievement gap.

VIDEO: NAM Black education summit, bridging the gap between policy. the media and the people.

The all-day meeting was hosted by New America Media in partnership with UCLA/IDEA and the Bunche Center for African American Studies, and sponsored by The California Endowment, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Walter and Elise Hass Fund, and the James Irvine Foundation.

roundtableBlack media roundtable in Los Angeles on education.

A snapshot of the academic performance of black students presented at the roundtable was grim.

According to the California Department of Education, black students who have traditionally struggled continue to trail behind their white, Asian and Hispanic peers. The results from the 2006 California Standards Test, a way to measure academic progress of students in 2nd to 11th grades, shows less than 30 percent of black students can read, write and do math at their grade level, while more than 60 percent of white and Asian students meet Californias content standard. The gap remains significant when comparing students of similar socioeconomic backgrounds. Among black students, 22.9 percent tested proficient in English Language Arts and 21.6 percent tested proficient in math, trailing all other racial groups.

The dropout rate for black students (36.2 percent) is also higher than the state average of 21.5 percent.

The achievement gap is real, its stark, its persistent, and we have to admit that we have it, said Jack OConnell, state superintendent of public instruction. Its a tremendous loss of potential.

Facing a bleak picture, participants didnt shy away from expressing their opinions about possible causes of the problem.

At a very young age, often times, African-American students are inappropriately placed in special education, or over the years they are discouraged to push up the school, said Karen Bass, the first woman Speaker of the California State Assembly. Fundamentally, as a society and as a state, we really dont prioritize or focus on education in the way we should.

Participants also singled out a flawed school funding mechanism that allocates more resources for schools in rich areas than those in poor ones.

We must approach the issue from a system reform perspective, said Russlynn Ali, executive director of Education Trust-West.

According to Ali, schools with large minority populations get less of everything. For example, Granada Hills Charter High School in the San Fernando Valley, a Los Angeles suburb, spends about $956,000 more a year on teachers than L.A.s inner-city schools, attracting more qualified teachers. As a result, Ali asserted, inner-city students who are more likely to be from a minority group and live in poverty are far more likely to have more than their fair share of the lowest quality teachers no matter how you define quality.

Were still sharing books, but theyre spending money on security cameras and making us all feel like criminals, said Jasmine Robottom, a 16-year-old student activist in the 11th grade at Manual Arts High School, after describing classrooms at her school that lacked everything from textbooks to quality teachers. Were getting a hand-down education.

Some participants blamed the disparities on racial inequality. In a session titled, How to turn bad schools into good schools, Mariela Martinez, a 16-year-old student from Fremont High School in East Los Angeles and an activist in the Community Coalition, said she felt the title of the session was a euphemism for black and brown schools.

elected officialsKaren Bass, Speaker of the California State Assembly.

In another session, journalist and author Earl Ofari Hutchinson blasted coverage by the news media, including the black media, for focusing on negative stories about black 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-American and 48 percent Latino students. Out of Harvests 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.

The group also discussed possible remedies to address the achievement gap, including increasing preschool quality and access in minority communities.

Debra Watkins, director of California Alliance of African American Educators, said that in a study of public schools in Michigan, New Jersey, Oklahoma, South Carolina and West Virginia, children who went to preschool outscored those who didnt. Children who attended preschool outperformed their counterparts who did not by 31 percent on vocabulary tests, 85 percent in print awareness skills such as letters and sounds and 44 percent in early math skills.

The early start should be reinforced by active parental engagement, said Rema Reynolds, a Ph.D. Candidate in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA. She said that a lack of parental engagement among blacks extends even to higher income black families. Even educated, middle-class, two-parent homes in the black community are not preparing their kids for college, she said.

We should take control of our own kids, said Watkins. Its a burden on us. We should stop looking at hand-outs.

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