By John Hubbuch
As the end of summer fades to the first cool nights of fall, we know it's almost time to get ready for a new school year. It's time to buy books, new clothes and get back to the nine-month routine.
And if you're the District 200 Board Of Education, it's time to renew efforts to close the pernicious achievement gap between the white children and the African-American children — a gap that has persisted for many years despite the very best efforts of students, parents, teachers, boards of education and superintendents to close it.
Yet despite these efforts the gap remains more or less the same. Ask any educator: No Child Left Behind was a flop. Given the failure to make any significant progress, it is understandable that there is little public documentation here in Oak Park of the harsh reality that so many have worked so hard to achieve so little.
Like most of the community, I would rather read about all our National Merit scholars who are going to Ivy League schools this fall. District 200, like high schools in Evanston and Shaker Heights, Ohio, has the more complicated version of the gap. On average, our minority students do worse on these standardized tests even if their parents make the same incomes and have the same educational background — two key variables often used to explain the gap.
According to Terry Dean's July 31 report in Wednesday Journal, the high school community has had and will continue to have "courageous conversations" about race and education at OPRF. Good idea.
I would like to courageously offer a thought on the achievement gap: Given the long history of so many smart, dedicated people trying, but failing, to solve the problem, maybe it can't be solved. Given the modern world's arrogant conceit that every problem can be solved, this will seem cynical rather than realistic. However, global warming, 4 percent unemployment, a cancer cure, violent gangs, living forever, and drug and alcohol addiction are all good examples of how wishing doesn't make it so.
I suppose the high school could shift millions of dollars to try to close the gap with pull-outs, Saturday classes, individual tutoring, smaller class sizes, but realistically the community will not support such an approach. Same thing for eliminating tracking at the high school.
Such drastic new approaches might work, but good luck running for office on those proposals. As a community, we're interested in solving the problem, but not that interested. Nor can the board tell the community that by the time the students enter high school, the race is run. Parents, early childhood education, and District 97 probably have more to do with the gap, yet somehow have much less accountability.
I feel bad for the OPRF school board. On the one hand, they can't just come out and say this gap is never going to be closed. The African-American community would understandably be very upset. So would most Oak Parkers. As a result, the high school every year has to come up with yet another new plan. A little tinkering and fine-tuning wrapped up in determined, hopeful rhetoric, and we can put our concerns aside until next August. We all take our yearly placebo and, predictably, nothing happens. At least we feel better. The high school is doing public relations rather than education on this issue.
Obviously, closing this gap is important, especially to all of the underachieving students. I'm no educator, so I have no idea what this board should do, but I do believe that less magical thinking and more consideration of the implications of how do you address a problem that probably can't be solved should at least be part of the public discussion.
Now that conversation will take courage.