Washington's African American students cannot wait 105 years to realize the same levels of academic achievement as their peers.
That is the amount of time that is estimated it will take if Washington state continues to improve at its current rate. In a report issued last month, the Center on Education Policy studied more than 40 states to find out how long it will take to close the achievement gaps that exist between low-income and students of color and their highest achieving counterparts at their current pace.
When compared with Louisiana, a state that has faced much adversity in communities and schools because of historical inequities, Hurricane Katrina and other disasters, Washington should be ahead in providing for our students. Yet, if Louisiana continues on the path it’s headed, its achievement gap will be closed in 12.5 years.
This pace of change is unacceptable. Our children and the future of our state deserve better. We live in a state with a culture of innovation and world-class thinkers, yet many of our educators are culturally insensitive to the diverse range of learners who occupy our classrooms today. Our children deserve a world-class school system, one that enables them to compete globally, regardless of their racial and cultural differences.
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We talk about the achievement gap in isolation, as if it doesn’t have a face. Well, if we collect and pay attention to the disaggregation of the data, we would see some of the underlying characteristics and contributing factors to the achievement gap, and what must be addressed in order to close it.
African American students are overrepresented in special education and underrepresented in highly capable programs. They are disproportionately suspended and expelled from school, under-enrolled in higher education and overrepresented in the criminal justice. This is not right — it can and must change. Issues of access, opportunities to learn, and structural inequalities must be part of the dialogue.
Research has proven that great results are possible when people are held accountable and given the flexibility to innovate. We should give schools the opportunity to truly innovate and allow for high-quality charter schools and other alternative delivery systems that work with African American and other disenfranchised students. All across the country, there are great examples of what this simple concept can do for parents, communities and students, and we must learn from them.
The research is clear — an effective teacher is the most important factor in raising student achievement. If we provide a evaluation system that rewards and retains effective teachers and equips them with targeted professional development, we can give our students the teachers they need and deserve.
Even in these tough economic times, these changes make sense and are possible. Now is the time to truly evaluate what is working and what is not, and make decisions on how to do more with the resources we have.
That is why I have joined with Excellent Schools Now, a coalition of education, business and community-based organizations working to increase student achievement, close the achievement gap and prepare students to be college and career-ready.
We can’t just turn our backs on the children of our state. Imagine looking in the eye of a child and telling them they will have to wait 105 years to get the quality education they need to succeed in life.
We can and must do more.
Dr. Thelma Jackson is president of the Washington Alliance of Black School Educators and a member of the Black Education Strategy Roundtable in Olympia and serves on the League of Education Voters board of directors. She has served as president of the Washington State School Directors Association, president of the North Thurston School Board, chairwoman of the Washington State Legislative Ethics Board, and was president of the board of trustees of The Evergreen State College.