My Personal Candidate Forum, Chapter 3: The Achievement Gap
3. Do you feel District #279 is performing well in closing the achievement gap, and if not, what would you purpose to enhance that effort?
Our district is struggling to close the achievement gap. When looking at elementary test scores across the district (https://rc.education.state.mn.us/#), regardless of racial demographics, the percentage of children that do not meet academic standards for math and reading actually increased in most schools on 2018 test results. Out of our 17 elementary schools, 14 schools had a greater percentage of students not meeting math standards compared to the previous year. The average increase in students failing to meet standards for math proficiency was 3.3%. What’s more concerning, the percentage of our Black students not meeting academic standards in math showed an increase of more than twice that number, at 6.8%. Did we open the achievement gap even wider?
There is no one fix for this problem; it’s a multifactorial issue. Many students in our district come from low income families, have poor support, or have limited resources, creating barriers to their education. These students will need more class time, more support, more financial and staff resources than students without such barriers.
I want to expand the free preschool programs we now offer at several targeted schools so more children can participate. Early childhood education is strongly linked to improved student achievement and increased graduation rates. I hope to eliminate out of school suspensions for all but the most dangerous offenses. Suspensions negatively affect academic performance and can be used by colleges to deny admission. Maintaining low class sizes, especially in the early elementary years, should continue to be our norm. This too has been shown to increase academic achievement. When we are unable to reduce class size further, we should add staff or volunteers in the classroom to assist the teachers. We need to increase parental involvement in schools and at home. I would create a position of a Family Engagement Liaison at each school, whose primary focus would be to connect with and engage families and the greater community, thereby building a solid education bridge between school and home. Increasing parental involvement in education improves achievement, decreases absenteeism, and improves student behavior. Finally, we need to eliminate hiring biases in and barriers to employing more teachers of color, particularly black teachers. Studies have shown that a black student who has had just one black teacher in elementary school is significantly more likely to graduate and consider college: http://releases.jhu.edu/2017/04/05/with-just-one-black-teacher-black-students-more-likely-to-graduate/
Just one. And all students of color should be able to see a reflection of themselves in their teachers.