Black families want more for their kids and would embrace more challenging PK-12 paths to achieve it.
This is evidenced in the latest Education Post poll on how parents and grandparents feel about educational standards for their kids.
Some of the highlights from Black respondents that were the most powerful:
- 88 percent said that they support "higher standards and a more challenging curriculum" for students.
- 93 percent said that they support "more accountability for teachers and principals."
- 84 percent said that they support "teacher evaluations that use test scores, classroom observations, and surveys from parents and students to help teachers improve."
It's clear that Black families want stronger academics to prepare their students for college, the workforce and an better quality of life. To get there, we have to reject the idea that low-income students automatically translate into low-performing schools.
There are examples like George Hall Elementary School in Mobile, Alabama, proving that higher standards can have outstanding outcomes for students.
At Hall, 99 percent of the 549 students in grades PK-5 are African American. 99 percent of them are categorized as low-income. Still, they outperformed the state average in 4th grade reading, 96 percent to 83 percent, in 2011. Ninety-seven percent of the students exceeded 5th grade math standards in Alabama that year (compared with just 69 percent of white students).
Another school, Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School in New Orleans, has achieved similar outcomes. Of the 376 PK-6 students, 94 percent are African American, and 95 percent are low income. In 2012, Bethune was in the 76th percentile for the entire country for the academic achievements of 6th graders. The state average of 6th graders put Louisiana in just the 51st percentile.
The list of schools could go on. These two schools are among many across the country - district, charter, and private - that are disproving the "imminent failure" narratives that use race and poverty to assign black and brown students to lowered expectations. These success stories are proof that despite challenging circumstances outside the classroom walls, these students are succeeding -- and at a higher rate than peers that have other advantages.
Eric Mahmoud, the successful school leader of the Harvest Network of Schools in Minnesota talks broadly about closing "belief gap." In his report on the belief gap, he suggests we need to combat low expectations by highlighting success stories and countering the "myth that our children cannot succeed."
When one school succeeds, the others will believe that they too can rise to that level too.
How can we do it?
Beyond developing a community-wide belief that these schools can in fact succeed, what tangible ways are successful African American schools making strides? And how can these tactics be applied to the educational community as a whole?
In the case of George Hall, several initiatives have contributed to the upswing in students success, including complete restaffing, accelerated reading programs, extended school days, and increasing experiential learning opportunities.
At Bethune, an emphasis on recruiting experienced teachers and building-wide accountability has helped lift scores and overall achievement. This wasn't easy in the years following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
There are likely many methods for lifting academic outcomes for African American children. But, they pathway there probably mirrors the poll findings for African Americans: higher standards, strong teaching and curriculum, and accountability for outcomes at all levels.
That, and the belief that our schools can meet the aspirations black communities know their kids deserve.