Local News

Report Focuses On Closing Minority Achievement Gap In N.C. Schools

Posted December 5, 2001 3:46 a.m. EST
Updated May 27, 2010 8:06 p.m. EDT

— Poor and minority students can be successful in difficult courses if North Carolina educators will change the way they do business. That is the message of a state report on closing the achievement gap.

The report comes a year and a half after the North Carolina Commission on Raising Achievement and Closing Gaps began studying the issues and conditions associated with academic achievement of minority students.

The report made 11 recommendations to the state Board of Education board, including training teachers better to educate a diverse student body and encouraging minority students to take advanced classes.

One recommendation is to put experienced, proven teachers in front of underachieving minority kids.

"If we only took one simple step of assuring that poor and minority teachers had highly qualified teachers, about half the achievement gap would disappear," said Dr.Sammie Campbell Parrish of North Carolina Central University's School of Education.

The report also called for a statewide media campaign urging parents to be positive with their kids about education and discourage children from watching too much television.

The state points to a Wilson elementary school as a model for increasing minority achievement.

In Jennifer Lewis's class at Winstead Elementary School, race does not matter.

"Some come from wealthy backgrounds, some from poor. It does not matter. They work hard to do the best they can, so I work very hard to bring out the best they have," she said.

It should be that way for any student in any school, but, that is not the case according to the study.

"There's a 30 percent gap between the performance of minority students and white students across North Carolina," according to Marvin Pittman, assistant superintendent of N.C. schools.

The task force on closing the achievement gap found that what a teacher believes about minority and poor students affects a child's progress in school.

"If you believe in your mind that some children can't learn, you teach them at a lower level," Pittman said.

"They know I have high expectations for them and because of these high expectations, they strive to achieve," said teacher Claudia Long.

These students need support, too. The panel also found minority parents feel disconnected from schools and do not learn how to help their own kids. Raising achievement takes political, parental, community and school will.

"We've got to want to do this. We've got to believe that it can be done, especially at the doing level, at the teacher level, at the parent level and at the child level," said commitee chairman Bob Bridges.

Winstead Elementary uses small groups in all grades to monitor progress, which has been steady.

"Some kids learn faster than others, others will learn slower, but all kids can learn if you're willing to help and work with them," Long said.

The state does not claim that the strategies are new. The task force is challenging school systems and the state to put those ideas to work.