“These (numbers) for African-American and Hispanic children are abysmal,” she said. “The seeming sentiment of ‘Hold on, we’ll get there,’ isn’t working for me.”I appreciate Simone Lightfoot's honesty. As I noted several weeks ago in a series of posts (start here), segregation--and its cousin, the so-called achievement gap--have been with us for over thirty years. And note, that by "us," I don't just mean Ann Arbor schools, although we're obviously talking about Ann Arbor. This is true throughout the U.S.
This gap is not only true in education outcomes. It is true in health outcomes and it's true in housing outcomes. Have you ever looked at the difference in how many African-Americans (and Hispanics) are likely to get diabetes, compared to whites? What about heart disease? Age until death? How about rates of foreclosure? The numbers are not pretty.
Sure, we can research, and act, and research, and act, but a lot of things that we thought would work to improve outcomes have not actually improved outcomes. (A few have.) Is that simply how it is? Does race stand in for something else? Is it racism?
Just over a year ago, the Ann Arbor News reported this:
The Ann Arbor school district has started correcting problems that were causing a disproportionate number of black students [47%] to be labeled as cognitively impaired, the district's special education director told the school board Wednesday night.47%!? How do those numbers look today, a year and a half later?
Interestingly (but I'm not happy about this), in the Ann Arbor school district, we have been sued for reverse discrimination. In the late 1990s, there was a Saturday Academy for African American Youth--but the focus on African-American Youth was considered a problem by some. (I couldn't find a link to any of the news stories, or the summary, of the case. Point one my way if you know it, or write more in the comments.) It's my understanding, though, that part of the settlement was that the Saturday Academy could not be largely focused on African Americans.
And this week the same issue raises its head, when Mike Madison, a principal and an African-American man, offers a field trip to a select group of kids: African-American kids. Talk about controversy! The article doesn't explain why they could only invite a certain number of kids, and I'm troubled by the allegation that some African-American girls were disinvited.
Do I think that this is the solution to the achievement gap? No.
But do I think that this is the worst idea ever and Mike Madison is a total idiot? No, that is not it either.
My personal experience of Mike Madison is that he is a creative thinker. And quite honestly, dealing with the achievement gap requires thinking outside the box, and probably providing multiple solutions. If the achievement gap were easy to deal with, it would have been dealt with already! And when we think outside the box, we often find that our attempts are not successful.
So--Simone Lightfoot--thank you for keeping your eye on our failures as well as our successes.
And--Mike Madison--thank you for trying out a solution. Try a different one next time.
As Thomas Alva Edison said, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."We need to keep working on this.
Image is from here.