Friday, March 25, 2011

THE ACHIEVEMENT GAP: Why Columbia may never close it

"Closing the achievement gap" -- a disparity in school performance that largely follows racial and socioeconomic lines -- is a perennial School Board campaign topic.  In keeping with that tradition, this year's Columbia School Board candidates have embraced the achievement gap with the usual emphasis -- but with no new or innovative ideas about how to close it. 
Candidate solutions instead reflect the same tired buzz words that have dominated School Board discussions for years, with little substantive impact.  
On the one hand, it's surprising that a group of highly educated contenders -- with credentials such as J.D., Ph.D., and D.V.M. -- can't find enough imagination and vision to dispense with the recycled rhetoric. 

Then again, can six, all-white, upper-middle class candidates truly grasp the myriad OTHER gaps that conspire to reduce school performance among children who struggle in Columbia's racially and economically-segregated neighborhoods? 
Along with racial equality and income gaps, families in segregated and/or low income neighborhoods more often face an employment gap; a broken home gap; and a single parent gap, compared with people in other parts of town. 

Segregated and/or low income neighborhoods likewise face a safety gap; a housing quality gap; an infrastructure gap; and a resource distribution gap, compared with neighborhoods in other parts of town. 

And yet, among School Board candidates past and present, nary a peep about how to close all those other gaps.  Instead, 
proposed solutions are entirely about what teachers, classrooms, and Board policy must do, in a vacuum that makes the discussion virtually moot. 
Unlike Columbia's higher-income neighborhoods, many lower-income neighborhoods are marked by failed infrastructure;
block grant dependence; non-profit paternalism; insufficient public safety; slumlords; broken houses; and gang-bangs that resound in nights of blue lights, harried cops, and rifle shots.
Consider children who attended Field Elementary, in Columbia's First Ward, converted last year to a different use. 
Morning in and afternoon out, they would walk to or from school past a falling-down six-plex that's been vacant for 20 years; beer cans and liquor bottles and spent condoms strewn in a city park; vagrants too drunk or stoned to get up and move on;  a slumlord-owned drug house;  and one of Columbia's greatest eyesores -- the derelict Heibel-March Store -- that City Hall itself owns in that park -- Field Park -- ironically named for children's poet Eugene Field, just like the school.    
With its windows shot out then boarded up alongside a "Notable Historic Property" sign, what conflicting messages that old store on that new park must have sent children teetering on an achievement gap precipice, and right next door to an elementary school that's supposed to stand for so much more.   
How, praytell, is the School Board going to close the achievement gap without an honest, ongoing discussion of these other gaps?  How are Board members with no comprehensive solutions going to help kids from neighborhoods such as these, still stuck in a Jim Crow rut that should have gone out, if not with Brown v. the Board of Ed., then certainly with Martin Luther King, Jr.? 
One thing is certain:  The School Board won't do it -- no one will -- without some real, courageous, visionary change on far more fronts than the classroom. 


  1. You are right on at first about the same old tired buzz words in every school board, and indeed every city council race in this town. (But later in your article you repeat some of the same tired buzz words you condemn. No doubt so you won't be declared insensitive or racists as most whites live in shear terror of being called) But they simply are using the same liberal cliches that the politically correct, mind numb, over educated for their abilities masses who live in this town want to hear. That goes for much of the country as well. You could give CPS another $100 million and they would launch another mountain of useless programs and the attendant bloated overhead to administer them to no avail. Programs, programs, programs, you can never have too many of those! Indeed this bankrupt nation has spent trillions on anti-poverty and educational programs since the 60's and educational results have continued to decline. The problem lies in the "culture" if you can call it that, of a certain minority group and by that I mean black. I know well individuals who came to this country from SE Asia during the 80's with just the shirt on their back. No english language or writing skills who's children have been phenominal students in school. So don't want to hear about "poverty" or "racism" or the "legacy of slavery" nonsense. These people where real live slaves under the regimes of communist Vietnam or the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. You also mention the slumlords, which is true as some property owners are. However most are not but own propety in neighborhoods whose tenants turn them in to slums---FAST! I know people who have rental property in these areas and what once was a well maintained property quickly deteriorates because the blacks that rent them DEMOLISH them after a few months. No, not just normal wear and tear, not just the damage a partying college student might do, I do mean destroy. Are these renters held accountable? Try squeezing blood out of a crack dealing welfare sucking turnip. There has been talk by the city and others about evicting the trouble makers. Really? Try going through the eviction process in this town on someone from the "protected class." If you do go through all the trouble often you end up replacing the problem with those who are actually worse. Not fiction, just fact. The solution to all these issues? There is none, not in this land of the PC and terminally terrified of being considered racist. Who would rather drive the country over a cliff than simply speak and debate the truth, if they even know what that is anymore.

  2. Mike,

    While I think you are making some interesting points and raising important issues in this article, I respectfully ask that you not use a logo that I commissioned and own as part of your story. I recognize that I have no right/ability to force this because I have not copyrighted the logo, but I ask that you stop using it. Just as I would not create my own "Columbia Heartbeat" blog, because I respect you, I ask that you discontinue use of the logo.

    Sean Spence

  3. Anyone who rents to a "crack dealing welfare sucking turnip" should probably not be in the rental business. That kind of behavior can be screened out with the right application process and reference/credit checks. Do this, and you won't have these problems (which, btw, you can see with every group, not just black tenants).

  4. Someone's complaining about a logo that says "Superhero" and "Columbia Public Schools" ???

    Sorry lady -- you have to be WAY more original if you want copyright protection or the courtesy of exclusive use.

    One is a common phrase (which borrows heavily from the old Superman logo with a dash of Wonder Woman thrown in); the second is a public entity. No way you could copyright that even if you wanted to.

    Are you paying DC comics for use of the Superman style typography?

  5. My reply, too long for the space allowed here, is at:

  6. All well said, Mike.

    Ed Lambeth

  7. Once again I see you didn't hear everything I said.

  8. It is impossible to propose and articulate a comprehensive, wholly effective solution to the pervasive student achievement gap at a campaign forum in two minutes or less. This may partly explain the use of common adjectives aimed at succinctly describing paradigms through which change could be initiated.
    There is no lack of appreciation on my part of the gravity and complexity of the achievement gap. The presence of this issue is reflective of a morass of other social, economic, political, and functional problems in our society. Because of this, "solving" this problem will take far more than the use of different adjectives.
    I have consistently articulated my support for early childhood education as ONE of the means to prevent and impact the achievement gap. I still believe that properly preparing children to enter Kindergarten is an essential component (although insufficient alone) of the needed solution.
    I have also articulated my belief that students' caregivers involvement is also an indispensible component to the needed solution. This is a simple sentence, but a massive undertaking. One must consider the many variables that cause caregivers to be unwilling or unable to support and sustain a child's learning. In so considering, one will encounter such issues as poverty, race, generational welfare, mistrust of government and its attendant institutions, cultural and language differences and divides....just to name a few.
    Having acknowledged the difficulty in implementing "caregiver involvement", I know that it must occur. Please note that I have carefully chosen not to use the word "parent". I know that many of our students are cared for by grandparents, foster parents, siblings, neighbors, and others. Thus, I intentionally imply that the involvement of all of us will be required to successfully and wholly close our achievement gap.
    Our success as a community in closing the achievement gap will be a function of a wholesale acceptance that educating our kids is really and truly about ALL of us. If their success and failure is that of our community, we become motivated to rise to this challenge.
    I want to clearly acknowledge that I do not have the arrogance, nor the ignorance, to pretend to have the complete and immediate solution. As I mentioned earlier, I know that the achievement gap is a result of many other "gaps" affecting and impairing our community and society. I can and do offer an immediate willingness to work to FIND the solution while advocating to continue funding programs that work effectively towards a solution.

  9. "And yet, among School Board candidates past and present, nary a peep about how to close all those other gaps."

    So, to put specific programs on line - the deeds identified to address the problems as organized within the paradigm - I can refer you to the work of Randall Wray, up at UMKC, who did his graduate work with the late Hymen Minsky, the heterodox-Keynesian economist whose work through the 70's and 80's explain what's happened the last six or so years with the American economy. There is nothing uniquely new about the fix either. The specific part of the fix which goes to all the gaps you cite is known: When capitalists cannot demand all the labor there is in supply, the sovereign issuer of currency needs to be the employer of last resort. Stable schools in stable communities need stable households, which need stable incomes, and stable incomes come from stable employment.

    People who grow up in such households learn how to sustain that; people who don't, don't; and then the schools have to both educe and assume social service burdens.

    But I did not know I was running for a position with the authority to do anything to change that. And Tea Party acolytes - who have seized the advantage at both state and federal level - still think that modern fiat currency economies SHOULD be like commodity money economies.

    Your suggestions? Mine are usually ignored. You have anything different to offer?