Iowa Pubic Radio (IPR) correspondent Rob Dillard (@IPRDillard) has been working on a year-long assignment on diversity. In March-April 2011, IPR ran series of stories on Being Latino in Iowa that highlighted the Latino experience in my home state. Dillard covered stories on the effect of Latino populations on small towns and the importance of Latino food and culture. This week the series returned to focus on a different population in our state--African-Americans. According to IPR, U.S. Census data show there are now 90,000 African-American adults living in Iowa. According to state department of education enrollment figures, there are almost as many African-American children enrolled in our public schools. My husband and his family have lived in the state since the 1960's and I found it interesting to hear what Rob Dillard learned about Being African-American in Iowa in 2011. His series was divided into five parts: education, economy, politics, health, and spirituality. I plan to blog about my thoughts on each of these issues and how they relate to my family's experiences in Iowa.
Both as a teacher and a parent of school-aged mixed race children, I found it very interesting to listen to Rob Dillard's piece on education (You can listen to it here: Being African-American in Iowa: Education.) The piece centers on the Waterloo School District and spends time in a pre-k through 5th grade elementary school called the Dr. Walter Cunningham School for Excellence. Named after Iowa's first black principal, Walter Cunningham is a public school where 92% of 400 students are black. School officials in the state department of education and the Waterloo School District say that No Child Left Behind data point to a huge gap in achievement between black students and white students. For every 10 white students in the district, 8 are proficient in reading and math. For every 10 black students, 5 are proficient. District officials, like many other educators in the country are focused on the question, "How do we close the achievement gap?"
|A PBIS assembly at my children's school. Image credit: Bobby Duncan|
There are several things that the Iowa Public Radio piece did not discuss. First and foremost is the fact that in Iowa (as well as throughout the rest of the nation) our schools are largely segregated. In the IPR-featured Waterloo school district, Walter Cunningham School is 92% minority. Across town in the same district is Poyner Elementary, which is only 12% minority. In the district my children attend, one school has 13% minority enrollment while another has 70% minority enrollment. It is important to note that in my children's school district (and across the country) poverty and ethnicity correlate: schools with high minority enrollment also have high levels of poverty. Like other school districts in the country, poverty and ethnicity also correlate with lower achievement. Schools want to close that achievement gap, but are meeting a lot of resistance from parents --largely from white, European-American, educated and middle class parents.
|Map via http://www.remappingdebate.org/map-data-tool/new-maps-show-segregation-alive-and-well|
Many white, European-American parents are worried that their children are being exposed to a dumbed down curriculum, are being treated like lab rats in a behavioral scientist's research study, and are not receiving the kind of instruction that will permit them to be competitive in the global marketplace. There is no evidence that the use of research-based practices to close the achievement gap will harm middle class European-American white kids. In fact, the opposite is true--for example, PBIS and Differentiated Instruction research data show that those programs and teaching methods help ALL children--regardless of ability, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. So why are European-American white parents so resistant to changes that will close the achievement gap?
Here is what I know about my own children's education:
They attend a school that has more than 50% minority enrollment, and more than 50% of the students enrolled live in poverty. Their school is in its fifth year of using PBIS and the staff believes the program is making significant positive changes for both them and for students. They are working really hard to close the achievement gap by using PBIS to teach behavioral expectations to all students, and Differentiated Instruction to meet the academic needs of all students. Every student in the school shows tremendous growth each year. Those that start out below proficiency show significant improvement in math and reading by the end of the school year. My own children are usually already at or above-proficiency level when they start the school year, but that doesn't mean that their teachers stop teaching them--they are still learning and growing. There is no shortage of opportunities for them to be creative, to learn, or to move forward to more challenging material. There is no doubt in my mind that my children will go on to be extremely successful at whatever they decide to do with their lives because they are receiving a quality education. The methods used by my neighborhood school not only help to close the achievement gap, but they also work to help students like my kids--those who are already proficient in their grade-level materials.
When there is that kind of research and that kind of testament to the success of programs that help close the achievement gap, and white parents don't want their children exposed to them, I am left wondering...Why? Why are you so against schools using research-based practices that will improve the future for children of color (who will represent a majority of adults by the year 2042)? How can you be so against it when those same practices will also help your white, European-American children? At the very least, those parents exhibit a selfish interest in "my kid" rather than showing a vested an interest in "our nation's kids." At the very worst, their resistance may be an attempt to protect their white privilege and/or further our nation's history of institutionalized racism.
We all care deeply about our children. But we need to think about their lives in the future. The U.S. Census predicts that by 2042 our current minorities will be the majority. Kindergarteners today will be adult leaders in 2042--old enough to run for the office of President of the U.S.A. Do you want the majority of our country's adults in 2042 to be the product of schools that settled for less? Should we just leave those kids behind and allow the achievement gap to continue? Shall we just cast aside what research says will close the achievement gap so that the white folks can remain on top and in power? It is time to worry about more than just your own kid. We need to worry about all of Iowa's kids, about all of our nation's kids. Let's close the gap.
|Flickr image credit: zimpenfish|