Forest Park needn’t hit a panic button over continued evidence of a huge achievement gap between black and white students in the elementary and middle schools. It’s not new. It is not going to be solved simply or quickly. But all Forest Parkers ought to be wondering why this issue, and issues of race, generally, don’t get more attention in this town. And the answer isn’t because they don’t need attention, creativity, honesty and plenty of that distinctly uncomfortable feeling we all get when we talk about race and class.
It is past time for Forest Park, its schools and the community overall, to get uncomfortable and bold regarding the unspoken issues related to our racial divide.
There’s plenty to talk about and limitless ways for people of all races and classes to come together to solve problems. But first we need the leaders of our elementary school-board members, principals, parent groups and the incoming superintendent-to put the issue plainly on the table, to embrace it as the challenge of our times. We have seen precious little of that in the past from this board.
The test scores released last week make plain that Forest Park schools don’t need fine tuning to address the achievement gap. They need substantive changes including more or refocused resources, intense parental activism and a sense of outrage that so many of our kids are scoring so badly.
Let’s repeat that. So many of OUR kids.
In every subject and at every grade level, white students are outpacing black students.
Here are a few areas in which black students are not keeping stride with their white counterparts.
In third-grade classrooms more than 32 percent of white students are performing at the highest level, according to the 2006 ISAT scores. Only 3 percent of black students are in this category. Across the hall in math class, more than 50 percent of white third-graders are scoring in the top bracket. Meanwhile, fewer than 8 percent of the black students are in this category.
In the fourth-grade those disparities are no different. Exactly 50 percent of white kids are in the leading performance category in reading. In math and science, 25 percent are hitting these high marks. By comparison, the percentage of black students in these categories never climbs into the double digits.
More than 66 percent of black fifth-graders aren’t reading at grade level. More than 50 percent of black kids in the eighth-grade can’t perform grade-level math, according to the ISAT scores.
Until board members see a presentation on the scores, district officials will remain mum on what the 2006 scores mean for Forest Park’s schools. Once the numbers are on the board table, we challenge the sitting board and the new board, which will waltz into power through an uncontested election in April, to turn that table upside down, to refuse excuses and rationalizations.
There’s no need for blame. This is what it is. And the problem is not unique to Forest Park. But these kids, sitting in our desks, are unique to Forest Park. And it is time to aggressively start to work on fixing this gap.