President’s Message: Suzanne Kitchens
Honor Black History Month by supporting today’s Black students
It’s important that our schools recognize all the vibrant cultures and ethnic groups that form the fabric of this nation. So I applaud the many districts and county offices of education that took an innovative, intentional approach to Black History Month. Yet, what’s even more important than honoring Black history is preparing Black students for a brighter future, one where all African American students — and all California students — receive a high-quality education that prepares them for college, career and civic life.

It’s encouraging to see these celebrations of African American history, but that enthusiasm is tempered by present day data on student progress. On Feb. 8, researchers with the Educational Opportunity Project at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education released data that paints a sobering picture of student performance and the related opportunity and achievement gaps. Most disheartening was the finding that all of California’s student groups except African Americans made academic progress over the last decade, as measured by standardized test scores. Similarly, achievement gaps remained level or closed somewhat, except in the case of African American and white students where the gap widened. This is not the kind of history we want to be writing for our African American students, our schools or our state.

Suzanne Kitchens headshot
“California needs to commit itself to increased support of African American students.”
Suzanne Kitchens, CSBA President
To be sure, there are many school districts that are doing essential work to address the needs of African American students and move the needle on academic progress. While the overall results are discouraging, there are still lessons to learn and reasons for hope when one digs beneath the surface. As the leader of the project, Sean Reardon, told EdSource, “There is an enormous amount of variation among districts in the rate at which test scores are changing, even though there is very little change nationally over the 10-year period,” he said. One consistent factor that emerged from the research is the relationship between the socioeconomic status of a school district and the achievement of its African American students. Test scores are rising the fastest in traditionally high-income districts, districts where family incomes are growing rapidly, districts with greater percentages of experienced teachers, districts with growing charter enrollment and districts with higher per-pupil expenditures. Academic achievement gaps are closing the most quickly in districts with these same qualities.
Digital illustration of minority groups
When compared to other states, the researchers found that California finished middle of the pack in most areas. That’s unacceptable for a state that is home to the world’s fifth-largest economy but is still a hopeful sign considering that California has sometimes finished in the bottom quintile on recent measures of academic achievement. Scores for California’s white and Latino students rose more quickly than those of white and Latino students in most other states. That modest improvement didn’t take place in every category, however. California’s African American students showed less progress than most of their peers. In fact, based on test scores, rate of academic progress, and size of achievement gaps, one could argue that California is one of the least promising places in America for African American students to learn. That has to change.

Change starts with reflection. California needs to commit itself to increased support of African American students. We need to commit ourselves to an exhaustive examination of practices and policies that are accelerating African American student achievement as well as those that are inhibiting it. The research shows that increases in per-pupil expenditures, socioeconomic integration and access to experienced teachers can be part of the solution. As Stanford’s Reardon said, “One story is how scores are increasing for all students except Black students, but the other story is how much variation there is across districts,” Reardon said. “Some districts have shown improvements, and we can learn something from those places.”

The word “story” is contained within the term history. We must identify the success stories within those school districts that are bucking the trend and replicate the strategies that are making a difference for African American students. When those stories become the norm instead of the exception, we will have a history and a future we can be proud of.