Rest not our weary feet: Dr. Stephanie Robinson, principal partner of The Education Trust, on the release of the African American Achievement in America

Publication date: Mar 9, 2004

(Washington, DC)– – ““While the celebration of Black history month has ended, let us not forget about the work that still remains. We must ensure that our children’s academic achievement and success remains at the top of the nation’s agenda. There are still huge inequities within America’s schools that need to be addressed. We must address these inequities now; our children can’t afford to wait.

“”According to a recent Public Agenda Poll, more than half of Black parents call underachievement among Blacks a ‘“crisis.’” Their concerns are not misplaced. Our “’African American Achievement in America’” fact sheet and PowerPoint, which we are releasing today, document the fact that African American students are still not receiving the education they deserve.

“”As these two documents show, nationally, too few African Americans read or do math at proficient or advanced levels. In reading, a mere 12% of African American 4th graders reach proficient or advanced levels, compared to 39% of white 4th graders. Even worse, a heartbreaking 61% of African American 4th graders have not been taught to read at even the basic level. The story is worse in math with over two-thirds of African American 8th graders below the basic achievement level compared to only 5% who reach the proficient level or above.

“”While the nation’’s school systems persistently fail our children, there are many schools, districts, and states where African American students excel. For example, Centennial Place Elementary School in Atlanta, GA is 91% African American and 79% low-income and is in the top 10% of the entire state of Georgia in reading. Moreover, Centennial Place Elementary outscored 88% of other Georgia schools on the state’s math test. Additionally, the Mount Vernon, New York, school district has had tremendous success in reducing the Black-White achievement gap while simultaneously raising achievement levels for all groups of children. Furthermore, there are whole states where African American students are excelling. For example, Delaware outpaces the nation in reading gains for both African American and White 4th graders, and the greatest strides have been made by African American children. This type of achievement should be the norm for every school, school district, and state across America.

“”For the first time, we have a federal policy which is designed to force schools to address the academic needs of African American students. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) requires schools to look at achievement data by race in addition to overall averages.  NCLB requires states and districts to address the inequitable distribution of qualified teachers and provides school districts with professional development dollars to help current teachers raise their qualifications. It requires schools to ensure that all children are on grade level, or to develop plans to meet that goal. It provides supplemental services, such as tutoring, to low-income students whose schools have fallen behind. Most significantly, NCLB is making lots of information publicly available and is causing conversations about how to close the achievement gap.

“”Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation and misconceptions that result in missed opportunities to use this law for real education reform.

  • Misinformation in the belief that NCLB punishes students for low test scores; NCLB seeks to make states, districts and schools more accountable to all the communities they serve. While there are no consequences for students, there are obligations for states, districts, and schools to deal with the low performance of subgroups.
  • Misconceptions in the notion that NCLB requires high-stakes testing (testing used for graduation requirements and grade promotion);

NCLB requires students be tested each year in grades 3-8 and once in grades 10-12 in both reading and math. States can decide whether or not to use these tests for graduation requirements or grade promotion, NCLB does not require tests to be used in such a way.

  • Misunderstanding in the idea that NCLB takes money away from schools with low test scores;

NCLB provides schools with greater resources to improve and encourages states to do more. Just as the Brown v. Board of Education decision brought the force of law in requiring the desegregation of schools, NCLB brings the force of law to require that all children are educated at high levels. NCLB can work to bring an end to a two-tiered education system.

“Schools are under-funded and need money for such important items as books and renovations. We should all seek to increase federal funding, including full funding for No Child Left Behind; nevertheless, we cannot let states off the hook for their responsibilities. The fact is, states are responsible for 92¢ of every dollar spent on public schools, but most states don’t give a fair share of the money to high-poverty schools and schools educating mostly students of color.  So states should step up to their responsibilities and provide more dollars to schools that need them the most and Washington should fully fund NCLB. However, our children can’t wait for the politicians in Washington to get their act together.

“Fifty years ago, Brown v. Board of Education was a federal mandate that came with no funds, but we didn’’t use that as an excuse to stay in segregated schools. The same is true today; we cannot let lack of money impede us from our goal of educational equality. Children have but one educational life to give, we cannot waste it.

“NCLB provides external pressure to force change. It provides leverage for those of us who want to close achievement gaps. That’s why more than 100 African American and Latino superintendents have spoken in favor of the law’s demanding accountability provisions.  We are in the choir singing the same song, high achievement for all children. In no way is NCLB a panacea for all the woes in the educational system; however, it is unmasking achievement gaps and calling on educators to address them. The alternative is to preserve the status quo which we know isn’’t working for African American students.”

The Education Trust works for the high academic achievement of all students at all levels, kindergarten through college, and forever closing the achievement gaps that separate low-income students and students of color from other youth. Our basic tenet is this — All children will learn at high levels when they are taught to high levels.

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