An emerging alliance of Oak Park education activists is bringing heat on a critical topic at a ripe moment. The issue, as it has been for decades, is the academic and discipline gap between white and black students in our public elementary, middle and high schools.
Everyone agrees the gap is real and the inequity it plainly presents is real.
What's new here is the rising energy and organization among focused and frustrated parents, many of them black, over this issue. They tell this story not in the lexicon of quadrants and test score gradations. Instead, as our Michael Romain reported last week, we are hearing from parents who believe their own education, not just their own kids', was short-changed in Oak Park because they were African-American. We are hearing from a black mom who said her son and the only other black student in his class were assigned to read a primary school book for a reading assignment when he was in fifth grade.
We have lost and are still losing black kids right now, this school year, to districts that have long mouthed platitudes about the gap but have lacked the intestinal fortitude to go all in on finding a fix.
How do we know that? Because our high school has only recently approved a strategic plan based on a 2003 study titled, "The Learning Community Performance Gap at Oak Park and River Forest High School."
This moment is ripe for change because we have new superintendents at both districts who seem equally concerned about the status quo, who seem to have rejected the go-slow approach that has squandered years while offering cover to our collective liberal sensibilities.
Also positive is the equal focus activists are bringing to both the elementary and high school districts. Save us from any further finger-pointing suggesting that District 97 promotes ill-trained black graduates or that District 200 doesn't listen to the counsel of grade school teachers as they pass on specific students.
We're glad to see local school officials making the short trip to Evanston, our demographic twin to the north. The gap there is also historic. But there is slow headway being made in Evanston and we need to borrow those ideas and that backbone.
There is a suggestion, however, coming from the activists — CEEE (Committee for Equity and Excellence in Education), APPLE (African American Parents for Purposeful Leadership in Education) and SUA (Suburban Unity Alliance) — with which we disagree. It is proposed that the high school create a new post, an assistant superintendent of equity, who would focus on implementing the new strategic plan.
This most vital of tasks should not be segregated into a distinct position. Now is the moment for this school board and this new superintendent to drive the expectation of equity top to bottom through this district. Every division chair, teacher, coach, security guard and lunchroom worker needs to buy into the mission, work the plan and communicate it daily.