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Commentary: We can close gap on scores

By Dr. Ada Fisher
For the Salisbury Post
The Nov. 30 front page headline “Minorities can’t close the gap” in reference to test score achievement realities was poorly phrased and is part of the larger problem. In this day, when a black man, Barack Obama, and his wife, Michelle, both Harvard graduates, will ascend to the White House, to say minorities can’t close the gap is a misstatement of facts.
A more accurate phrasing would be “Minorities haven’t closed the gap” and then look at reasons for our failures as a people, a community and society.
– The schools that are performing poorly are largely minority saturated with a dwindling of the socioeconomic diversity from which children learn best. The constant redistricting of schools to accommodate neighborhoods which are still largely segregated belies an underlying problem which we still have and are unwilling to honestly discuss.
– The unwillingness of local officials, legislators and unions to allow choice for parents whose students aren’t making the grade is a disincentive to student success. If parents whose children were not making the grade or were performing below test standards were granted the option to take the state supplement and move that child to any certified and licensed public or private school where he/she might succeed, some of this would end. Schools would teach these students if the penalty for failure was to lose the students and the funding, which might see many schools closed. We are warehousing students for failure.
– Alternative education which looks at the realities of students’ lives, e.g. out of wedlock pregnancies, violence, drugs and not being able to attend school during traditional hours etc., would help many students get a diploma. Utilizing the Dunbar Center, as previously recommended, as a true alternative school and center for learning excellence would do much, but this idea constantly falls on deaf ears.
– Looking at principal and teacher assignments to ensure that those schools not making the grade get their share of the better and more experienced teachers, as well as a better intensified effort to find more minority teachers and aides, would do much.
I am tired of hearing that our students can’t learn. For four years, I served on the school board, worked with those who have dropped out, and I know that the opportunity for unintimidated input often prohibits folks from saying what you need to hear. The suspension of students with behavioral problems has to my knowledge not been a point of public discussion with records made available on how many are suspended and for what reason so that we as a community can address the problems. I will not concede that educators have all the answers, for if that were true we would not lose over 30 percent of our students through dropouts.
Lastly and most importantly, parents and their students must also be held accountable for our failures. The “No Child Left Behind Act” makes our failures evident, but the remediation to right the wrongs isn’t there. All children can learn; however, what they learn and in what setting too often requires a cookie cutter approach rather than a diligent effort to find the most effective and efficient learning environment. We need to think differently in dealing with a generation of students who learn differently. Too often, we keep doing the same things the same way, proposing the same solutions, and wonder why nothing changes without appreciating that we are truly breeding insanity.
– – –
Dr. Ada Fisher is a former member of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education.

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