This is a great article. Looks like these young students of Color aren't asking for any more than most other students whose voices have been documented: caring, respect, belonging, resources and support. -Patricia
By Susan Sandler / San Jose Mercury News
The release of the latest test results from California schools highlights the persistence of the racial achievement gap for California students. These results clearly show that race is a factor in education. Race matters, and it's not going away.
Over the years, the California school system has undertaken a series of steps to eliminate achievement gaps, setting goals, applying sanctions, implementing tightly specified curriculum packages, calendars, and other guidelines. Most school staffs are now very focused on achievement gaps. But with all this attention, the racial achievement gap is not budging. And it won't - until policy addresses race.
It's time to take a step back and see what's missing from how California has attacked this problem. One vital perspective has been consistently overlooked: the student's. What does the school system look like through the eyes of students of color? Does it foster learning and belonging, or alienation and failure?
When Justice Matters, a research and policy institute focused on racial justice in education, has asked students of color about what is important in supporting their success in school, here is what they have told us. First, they need to be comfortable at school, which means that the school is a welcoming, caring place where they are respected, and which takes their education seriously. This means having both the tangible resources of quality books, materials, computers and adequate facilities and the less tangible resources of teachers and leaders who value them, see their talents and support their aspirations.
Second, the learning experience needs to engage their interest and curiosity and also to challenge them. This requires a curriculum that is rigorous and relevant - that engages them in authentic problems and meaningful work - and teachers who are knowledgeable and skilled in how to teach their content to their students.
Third, they need to see that they have a place in the school system - that their culture, language and history are recognized and included in the learning experience.
Finally, students learn best when they have close, positive relationships with their teachers and when their families do, too. This means not only having teachers and leaders who are caring but also the sort of environment - small classes, advisory systems and multi-year assignments - that allows teachers to know students well.
Seeing schools through the eyes of students of color makes it pretty clear that California's efforts to eliminate the racial achievement gap haven't focused on many of the policies that would most support their success.
Justice Matters will soon be releasing a study conducted by a team of researchers at Stanford University that details these policies. "High Schools for Equity: Policy Supports for Student Learning in Communities of Color" examines five California public high schools that have attributes such as those described above and that send nearly all of their graduates to college. The study focuses on which policies would be needed to enable all California schools to do what these schools are doing. These policies include:
• More equitable distribution of resources in California schools and better alignment of resources to support the practices that are most important for the education of students of color.
• Deeper investments in teacher education so that teachers can provide rigorous, culturally rich, relevant and responsive classrooms.
• Testing and accountability policies that better support high-quality learning experiences for students of color.
As state schools Superintendent Jack O'Connell said when speaking about the racial gaps in student learning, "We cannot afford to accept this, morally, economically or socially." He's right. We need to do more than wring our hands; we need to make major policy changes so that California schools can provide students of color the education they deserve.
SUSAN SANDLER is president of Justice Matters. She wrote this article for the Mercury News.