To change the gap, change the system, not the teachers

Opinion

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Jack Flynn, One View

I read Oliver Pergam's One View on Beye School with great interest [What's going on at Beye? Teacher expectations are the key, Viewpoints, Feb. 1], but I came to a completely different conclusion. In referencing Ron Ferguson from Harvard he noted that many African-American students "have fewer family background advantages on average, compared to white and Asian students. They have lower homework completion rates, but spend the same time. Skill gaps or motivation appear to be the primary explanations for why they complete less homework and get lower grades than whites."

It would seem the truth is that many African-American children come to school not as well prepared to start school as the majority of white children. This is not the fault of the child. Interestingly, the public school system in the United States has the shortest school year of any of the 20-22 industrialized nations. We also have the shortest school day. Given that the teachers have the children for such a short time, it is very difficult to catch up those students to grade level who come to school well behind their peers.

Last year two of the valedictorians at OPRF were African Americans. It was preparation, not the lack of racism that helped them achieve these honors. Dr. Pergams has determined that the reason for lack of success is truly a racial one. This has been the argument for the last 10 years that I have been tutoring in Oak Park schools. Except for one teacher at the high school, I have not seen one indication of racism among the teachers at Irving School [where I tutor] during the last five years. I do see teachers coming in early, leaving late and making special plans for tutors working with children that are far behind, no matter what ethnic background.

In referencing Danny Martin of UIC that "he did not know of any African-American children unable to learn math at the highest level," I was in complete agreement. I can take Dr. Pergams to a school in Austin, less then two miles from Beye. This school takes fifth graders reading at second to third grade level, and all are reading at grade level when they finish eighth grade. The difference is the system. The children have a longer school day. They go to school year-round with three-week vacations in April, August and December. They read for 2 hours per day. They have 90 minutes of math per day. They get accepted at private high schools and succeed. It is the system.

This gap has been strapped onto the back of our entire nation. The media, the press and parents of the "at risk" children continue to argue that it is racism. Why then are there so few successes out of Chicago Public Schools where the administrators and teachers are most often black? Where is the example of success in public schools with diverse populations decreasing the "gap?"

If we can't make it work in Oak Park, where in the country are we going to find an area where the educational gap is eliminated? Oak Park must have more Ph.D.s in education and more citizens with advanced degrees than any area of the country that is only 3 miles by 1.5 miles in size.

Let us work together to develop a system to help those who are far behind. Let us get the libraries and pre-schools to use all their capability to give children a great start. Finally, let us help those mothers who don't have the means or education to help support their children's education to use the many resources available to keep their children competitive. As we continue to harass our teaching staff, we continue to reduce the pool of fine teachers who will put up with this type of treatment.

Strange?#34;we are for the most part a well-educated community. When many of us were in school (certainly when I was) none of our parents would have considered treating our teachers the way this community treats its most valuable asset. The system needs change, and it needs the help that many of you can offer.

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