Friday, October 4, 2013

Closing the Achievement Gap

I've attended well over three dozen presentations, workshops, roundtables, charettes, and orientations.  Monday's African American Community Roundtable 2nd Education Forum was one of the best.  Hearing experts describe the facts on the ground and how they can be affected by good ideas is an under-rated and under-appreciated experience.  Dr. Foose is a true leader and provided encouraging statistics regarding where Howard County stands in closing the achievement gap for minority students.  Dr. Franklin CampbellJones drove it home with his description of "The Culturally Proficient School".  I would project that every participant left that night being proud of their school system, while also aware of the challenges facing our educators.

First, some statistics.  Sara Toth, writing for the Patuxent Media Group, did a great job covering the event and I strongly recommend you read her complete article.  She included some of the figures Dr. Foose described on Monday:

Among 3,975 graduates in the class of 2012, Foose said, 45 percent took at least one Advanced Placement exam, and 38 percent earned a passing score of three or higher. But among black graduates — 819 in the class of 2012 — 21 percent took an AP exam and 15 percent scored three or higher. Furthermore, on the SAT, black students in the class of 2013 scored an average of 1,414; in the county, the total average score was 1,653.

For comparison purposes, the state-wide average for all students in 2013 was 1483.  I can't find the numbers, but Dr. Foose also noted that the average SAT score for African Americans in Howard County far out-paces the comparable state-wide average.  So we're doing something right.  But the gap still persists.

That's where Dr. CampbellJones comes in.  He is an expert in the field of Cultural Proficiency.  As Dr. CampbellJones described in this 2012 interview "The best way to describe cultural proficiency is that it is a state of mind where we respond to each other in a way where we appreciate one another’s culture. There is reciprocal space, where people look to understand one another."  

Wait, come back.  I know I lost some of you there.  Eyes roll, browser window shuts.  I get it.

But here's the thing, Culture Proficiency has the capability of changing the paradigm on education and the best chance of closing the achievement gap that I've seen.  Why?  As Dr. CampbellJones describes, CP is not just about identifying external differences, but also about examining and appreciating how our own cultures and beliefs shape our attitudes and behaviors.  It's not necessarily about defining what is good and what is bad.  It is about recognizing what "is" and working within a realistic framework instead of imposing artificiality.  

How can we expect teachers to connect with students over the very intimate subject of learning without recognizing the cultural barriers that separate them?  If we can identify barriers, we can overcome them.  If we can overcome the barriers to learning for educating minority students, we can close the achievement gap.  If we can close the achievement gap, we've done something quite remarkable.

Sara includes one of my favorite parts of the night in her article.  Quoting Dr. Foose - "I know it is my task to eliminate that gap, and there's always people who say 'I'll believe that when I see it.' I can't listen to that anymore. I say, 'no, it's not a matter of believing it when you see it, you will in fact see it when you believe it.' " 

The written word doesn't communicate it, but Dr. Foose was a little mad when she said this.  She was a little fired up.   I think you need to be a little fired up to do the impossible.  I am confident that Dr. Foose will get it done.