Friday, August 19, 2005

Our Achievement Gap

We learned from the Montclair Times in the last week that along with the the three middle schools in Montclair and two of the town's elementary schools, Montclair High School, the fine beacon of learning that the Jersey Perspective bloggers attend, is a "failing" school under No Child Left Behind standards. (Baristanet has the story, as well.) State testing, which the NCLB standards are based on, has been a tremendous deal in Montclair schools. As you Jerseyans will know, Montclair is among the most diverse school districts, if not municipalities, in the country. The racial achievement gap between black students and white students is embarrassingly wide, and the schools regularly take heat when these test scores come out each year.

The gap hovers around a 30 percentage-point difference between proficiency levels for whites and blacks at MHS. Maplewood's high school has a similar demographic composition, but a significantly smaller achievement gap. Why the discrepancy? It was a question I asked of district and school officials in our town this past year, but to which they had little answer.

The existence of a racial achievement gap is obviously unfortunate and school districts have an obligation to narrow that gap as best they can. But given that American schools were fully integrated barely a half century ago, and blacks - on average - still live in poorer, larger households where the adults are less likely to be college graduates, it isn't a huge surprise that the gap is there. The school district here won't deny that there's a problem and won't lie and say that they know how to fix it. They don't. But the test scores don't lie. The statistics of the makeup of special education classes don't lie. Montclair High School - a place that prides itself on its diversity and will openly flaunt it - is letting down its student body.

3 Comments:

At 5:03 PM, Anonymous njcons said...

"But given that American schools were fully integrated barely a half century ago, and blacks - on average - still live in poorer, larger households where the adults are less likely to be college graduates, it isn't a huge surprise that the gap is there. The school district here won't deny that there's a problem and won't lie and say that they know how to fix it. They don't. But the test scores don't lie. The statistics of the makeup of special education classes don't lie. Montclair High School - a place that prides itself on its diversity and will openly flaunt it - is letting down its student body."

You gave the answer to the problem. Outside of waiting for more affluent black students (as in Maplewood) what exactly is the school district supposed to do? Give the black students different parents?

 
At 10:51 AM, Blogger Xpatriated Texan said...

I agree that numbers don't like, but they rarely give the full story. It would be interesting to dig a bit deeper and find out how far back into Jr. High and Elementary schools this problem exists. People don't just show up at High School and get dumb - though they do sometimes quit trying.

Sometimes we have to use race to get past race - and that means even looking very carefully at underlying information that is too easily dismissed as hidden racism.

XT

 
At 5:53 PM, Blogger Sam said...

XT - You're right. The entire district has the problem, but, at least at last check, the high school is where the gap widens. In truth, the entire district is practicing false advertising, but since the problem is most glaring at the high school and we all go there, that was the focus. You're absolutely right, though.

I agree with the second point, too, and I only got our principal to talk about the socioeconomics of race with me in a one-on-one interview. In Montclair, discussion of race even in the context of economics or social structure often doesn't pass the PC test.

 

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