25 Years Later: Revisiting the 1990 Report
The achievement gap is sadly not new – in our district or in schools across our nation. Work to address African American achievement has been underway for many years in Kirkwood. Groups have been convened at least twice over the last thirty years to better understand achievement disparities and identify strategies for improvement. Formal plans to address black achievement in Kirkwood were written in 1990 and 2003, yet the need for a renewed focus in our district was abundantly clear in 2015. While our world outside of school has changed a great deal since 1990, there are glaring similarities to some of the issues we still face inside our classrooms.
The Black Achievement Committee presented concerns and recommendations in 1990 that provide interesting context and perspective in our work today. While there has been progress made in the last twenty-five years, and it would be negligent to not recognize the similarities between 1990 and 2015, when our current Task Force was convened.
- While overall achievement has risen, and African American achievement has improved in many schools, significant disparities remain between the standardized test scores (MAP & EOC) of black and white students. Recent gaps between black and white averages have ranged from 20-65%, depending the grade level, content area, and year.
- Problem solving and interventions have improved dramatically in our schools, with data-guided decision making and multi-tiered systems of support deeply ingrained in our culture. Changes in the last ten years have had a direct impact on student success, yet there are still disproportionate percentages of African American students being “pulled out” for interventions and/or receiving special education services.
- The district has lost much of its racial diversity in the last twenty years, in part due to changes in the Voluntary Transfer Choice Corporation and within the Kirkwood community. Roughly 13% of our current students are African-American – including those who reside in the Riverview Gardens School District and attend via the school transfer program. Five of our eight K-12 schools have an African American population of less than 10%, and the district could soon lose additional African American students if Riverview Gardens School District regains accreditation. It should be noted that most schools have seen an increase in the percentage of students identified as multiracial in the last five years.
- Roughly 7% of our current teaching staff is black, even after we’ve hired fourteen African American teachers (and one administrator) in the last three years. Five teachers of color are retiring or leaving the district this year, a significant loss that will take intentional efforts to overcome.
- Three additional points of concern in 1990 – instruction around black history, parent engagement, and equitable early childhood opportunities, are also mentioned in our current recommendations. Frustrations centered on race have continued to play a significant role in community efforts, with specific work spearheaded by Kirkwood Neighbors United and the Meacham Park Neighborhood Improvement Association, among others.
While there are obvious similarities between the concerns of 1990 and those of today, it is worth noting that some recommendations presented twenty-five years ago did take place and have become part of how we do business in Kirkwood.
- Afterschool and summer learning opportunities have been expanded at all levels over the last 15 years, with programs now in place targeting early intervention in elementary schools
- While racial disparities remain and work remains to be done, discipline policies have been reviewed regularly and school-based efforts (i.e. PBIS, Olweus, restorative justice) have had a positive impact in students and school culture
- District-wide UNITE efforts around educational equity have supported building-based work and led to mandatory training for all staff around bias and privilege
- Students in the early childhood class at Robinson Elementary have shown significant growth, with three-year data suggesting the program is closing gaps that may exist when students arrive in the program
- Many administrators have participated in intentional training around racism and social justice advocacy, although this work was not mandatory and not all participated. Early momentum was lost for several years when top-down support was not consistently in place.
It is also worth noting, however, that several recommendations identified in 1990 can still be found in the current report. The need to diversify our staff and provide black role models for all students is still very real. Early childhood opportunities are again a priority for the 2015-2016 Task Force, as is a commitment to a district level position/role focused on diversity and achievement. The current report also recommends an African American history course, to be taught at the middle or high school, plus intentional changes to all curricular areas to foster diverse and inclusive perspectives. Despite ongoing efforts to keep all students in school, an alarming number of African American students are suspended for behavioral reasons every year. Systemic changes are necessary to make a deep and long-lasting impact on our practices and our culture.