Press Release

Yes We Can: Telling Truths and Dispelling Myths About Race and Education in America

Publication date: Sep 12, 2006

(Washington, D.C.) – The Education Trust is co-hosting a Capitol Hill Event today with Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA), and Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL) that features African-American educators who have successfully used standards and accountability to improve teaching, motivate students and faculty, and raise achievement in their schools.

This event coincides with the release of an Education Trust report that examines the educational practices and policies that have raised academic achievement for low-income and minority students, and offers compelling evidence that children of color excel in school when given the right teaching, right classes and right support.

The report, Yes We Can: Telling Truths and Dispelling Myths about Race and Education in America, soundly rejects the myth that low academic achievement is inevitable among children of color and students from low-income families and provides examples of high-minority and high-poverty schools where children perform at high levels.

“I’ve devoted much of my career as an educator to improving academic achievement for children from poor families and children of color. All of my experiences have convinced me that a system of standards and accountability is one of the most powerful tools available to educators who are working to improve achievement for students of color,” said Stephanie Robinson, a principal partner at the Education Trust and former deputy superintendent, Kansas City (MO) Public Schools.

“My experience in a district with a lot of resources made it clear to me that standards and accountability are every bit as important as money,” Robinson said. “Standards are like a road map, and assessments let you know whether you’re making progress toward the destination.”

Robinson, who is moderating today’s panel, is joined by three distinguished educators who have been enormously effective in boosting academic achievement.

They are:

  • Al Harper, Superintendent of Elmont Union Free DistrictHarper is former principal Elmont Memorial Junior-Senior High School, where most of the students are African American. The school keeps more than 80 percent of its freshmen to the senior year and then graduates 99 or 100 percent of them. Almost all the graduates immediately enroll in college, most in four-year colleges. The school’s goal is to prepare students, not to merely enter college, but to graduate from college. To that end, students are encouraged to take rigorous classes, including Advanced Placement courses. In 2004, the College Board recognized Elmont for producing the greatest number of African-American students who passed the AP World History Exam.
  • Barbara Adderley, Principal, M. Hall Stanton Elementary School, Philadelphia, PAAt Stanton Elementary, all the children are African American and most are poor, living in an economically devastated part of North Philadelphia. Under Adderley’s leadership, Stanton has gone from one of the lowest performing schools in the city to one of the higher performing schools in only a few years.  In 2003, fewer than two children in ten met state reading standards, and only two years later almost three-quarters of the students met state reading standards and even more met state math standards.
  • Martha Barber, Alabama Reading Initiative Regional Principal Coach, Birmingham, AL 

    Martha Barber is former principal of Birmingham’s Tuggle Elementary School, which was designated a national Title I Distinguished School during her tenure there. Today, she works hands-on with 36 principals around the state, guiding them on how to improve reading instruction in their schools. One such successful school is West Jasper Elementary School, where higher rates of poor and African American students meet state standards than all students in Alabama.

These educators all are united in their belief that all children can learn, regardless of the color of their skin or the circumstances they face in their homes and neighborhoods. They also believe in the unique power and potential of public education to transform the lives of these students.

“Because a child is poor doesn’t mean he can’t learn,” said Harper. “Because a child lives in the projects doesn’t mean he can’t learn. If there are gaps, we as a society must fill those gaps.”

Unfortunately, as the Ed Trust report documents, our educational system gives these students less of everything they need: Poor and minority students are far less likely than their White and middle-class peers to be taught by qualified teachers. They are far less likely to be exposed to a rich and challenging curriculum. And the school districts that educate them consistently receive less state and local money than the districts serving the fewest numbers of minority students.

“The size of the achievement gap is a direct result of the lesses that too many children of color are forced endure in the schools they attend,” said Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust. “We must have the courage to change these patterns.”

Some policymakers and educators are doing just that, as demonstrated by the success stories highlighted in today’s panel and the new report.

“Educators of color have a huge stake in maintaining accountability policies – policies that hold educators responsible for educating all groups of students to high levels, policies with consequences attached if they don’t,” Robinson said. “And we need more educators, especially educators of color, to speak out on these issues and to serve as models for others on how to get the job done.”

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