Narrowing the Achievement Gap

November 10, 2010 at 12:36 pm Leave a comment

The New York Times’ article “Proficiency of Black Students Is Found to Be Far Lower Than Expected” discusses a new report regarding the achievement gap between black and white students. This gap has a history of being the target of varying attempts at school reform for the last 30+ years. But this new info is showing that “poverty alone does not seem to explain the differences: poor white boys do just as well as African-American boys who do not live in poverty.”

An analysis of the results raises questions about causes other than poverty. In the article, Ronald Ferguson, with the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard, states race plays a role in how children’s early childhood development affects their capacity for future success in formal education environments.  The article highlights a case study of the effect of integrating a community outreach approach to reach students. In Baltimore, such outreach yielded a reduction in drop-out rates and increases in graduation rates for African-American youth.

It is exciting that the national focus is moving to take into account the historical and cultural frames in which young people are growing up. But if we attempt to isolate race as a reason and not take into account the totality of the impact of a family living in a marginalized community for decades, we may still miss an opportunity to narrow this gap.

Children growing up in marginalized communities do not have access to the resources that children living in more affluent neighborhoods have – we all know this. But the challenges are not just the quality of teachers, but rather the historical effects of decades of failure to equip those families and neighborhoods with adequate resources.

The key to making change is to be a part of the community and work with these young people and their families so they can have the opportunity to thrive in communities that foster success.

At Southwest Key Programs, after decades of working to keep the doors to opportunity open for young people who were already caught in the juvenile justice system, we wanted to find ways to keep children from entering those systems in the first place. We wanted a solution that would empower families to create opportunity for themselves with the belief that, once empowered to change their own lives, they could then also make change in their communities as a whole.

By going into the community and talking with East Austin residents, Southwest Key learned that people  wanted three simple things: education for their children, tools to get jobs that would allow them to provide for their families, and to have a voice in their community. In response, Southwest Key collaborated with other organizations and community organizers to move their national headquarters to the Govalle/Johnston Terrace neighborhood, create education and job training opportunities, and build the East Austin College Prep Academy (the first middle school to educate the children in the neighborhood in 20 years).

The goal of the East Austin College Prep Academy is to eventually provide services and education to families from pre-K through high school graduation. By creating this resource for families in East Austin, we may be able to narrow the achievement gap between students from different communities – especially minorities living in poverty-stricken neighborhoods.

– Narissa Johnson, Ext. Communications Manager
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Entry filed under: Community Empowerment, Culture, East Austin, EAustin College Prep Academy, Juvenile Justice.

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