Tuesday, August 16, 2005
HOW ANOTHER STATE IS BATTLING ITS RACIAL ACHIEVEMENT GAP
North Carolina is making an admirable, all-out effort to close the racial achievement gap among its public-school students. Since the test scores from the Omaha Public Schools revealed the persistent, decades-old gap between urban and suburban children, black and white, instead of whining and battling each other about the OPS consolidation controversy, it would behoove us to try to do something constructive like this.
The North Carolina plan features an Advisory Commission on Raising Achievement and Closing Gaps. They keep the elected State Board of Education and state schools superintendent informed on progress. Members include educators and retired educators, social services executives, elected officials, parents, business people, an attorney specializing in school law, a university person, and so on.
Here are the 11 recommendations the state is pursuing, and you can see the quality of this initiative on www.ncpublicschools.org/schoolimprovement/closingthegap
Recommendation 1. The state should take steps to reduce, then eliminate, the disproportionate number of minority students assigned to special education. Schools should provide descriptive data, in tabular format, that will allow people to compare the percentage of students assigned to the various categorical special education programs in local districts with state averages in those same categories and with those in the nation.
Recommendation 2. The state should recognize its obligation to ensure that students have an equal opportunity to learn by promoting, encouraging, and funding instructional approaches that expose minority students currently functioning at or near grade level to advanced content, challenging strategies, and high-quality work.
Recommendation 3. The state should initiate a professionally designed public information campaign to get the attention of parents and local communities.
Recommendation 4. The state should direct each district to request that each school: 1) prepare an annual action plan for creatively seeking to improve the school's image with parents and to raise the level of connectedness to parents in general and specifically to those not usually involved with the school; 2) keep records of parent involvement; and 3) consider voluntary home visits by teachers and administrators for the simple purpose of building a trusting relationship between home and school.
Recommendation 5. The state board and the state superintendent should make a public commitment to design and fund a required, but flexible, professional development initiative that will ensure that classroom teachers acquire the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed to be successful in teaching a diverse population.
Recommendation 6. The state should provide the substantial time that classroom teachers need to update their skills and gain new skills in working with diverse populations by requiring that veteran classroom teachers accept 11-month contracts once every four years. The report noted that, during 2003-04, 25% of all teachers (regardless of funding source for salary) could participate in five days' training on issues related to understanding and respecting cultural diversity and on appropriate instructional strategies. The salary cost for an additional five days for 25% of all teachers would be roughly $20 million. Over a fouryear period, all teachers could participate in the training for a cost (in salaries only) of roughly $80 million.
Recommendation 7. The state should create, fund, and support special seminars and course development for existing university teacher education faculty members that are designed to ensure that they command and model the specific knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to prepare preservice teachers to be successful in teaching diverse student populations.
Recommendation 8. The state board should seek the support of the president of the University of North Carolina and the chancellors of various campuses to require all search committees for new teacher education faculty members to assess and rate applicants as to the knowledge, skills, and dispositions they will need to teach preservice teachers to work with diverse student populations.
Recommendation 9. The state should demonstrate its seriousness about resolving the shortage of qualified classroom teachers in North Carolina who are prepared to be successful with diverse populations. It should design and implement a specific preparation delivery system that provides monetary incentives for high school and community college graduates who want to teach - preparing, graduating, and placing them in high need schools and teaching areas. Work on this plan has already begun.
Recommendation 10. The state board should add a "closing the gap" component to the accountability system that sets a universal standard and sets measures and incentives at the school district level. More specifically, the commission recommends that the state board explore setting a "universal standard" by which to measure the performance of racial/ethnic populations and socioeconomic groups. For example, the one standard studied by the commission is for 95% of all ethnic/racial and socioeconomic groups to reach grade-level proficiency by the year 2010.
Recommendation 11. The state should commission a study to examine and profile the history of organized education for American Indians and African Americans in North Carolina. A document should be generated that tracks the formal academic training of these two cultures from the beginning of public schooling to the present. Specific attention should be paid to the state's assumption of responsibility for educating these two groups within the public schooling system.
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