By Dr. John H. Grant –
Open Report to Asheville City School Board Addressing the Academic Achievement Gap.
Members of Christian faith-based organizations came together with guests in listening forums on April 30 and June 4, 2019 to consider what can be done to address and/or close the academic achievement gap between white and African American students in Asheville City Schools.
The forums were cosponsored by Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, Mount Zion Community Development, New City Christian School, The Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, The Baptist Ministers Union, Asheville-Buncombe Community Christian Ministry, Christine Avery Learning Center, and WRES 100.7 FM.
These organizations were asked to identify up to five action steps in which they are currently engaged that may contribute to closing the gap. A range of underlying issues contributes to the gap, and some of the actions items included herein may already be taking place in the Asheville City Schools:
1) High expectations of all students based on the belief they are made in the image of God, inherently valuable, and uniquely gifted.
2) Active covenant partnership between the school and the home.
- Children of families who take seriously such a partnership make steady progress in reading at the upper end of grade levels.
- Sets up teachers and students for success.
- Parents and teachers (with student input) write a vision statement with the understanding that failure is not an option.
3) Have a large (in-house) collection of books that feature African American heroes and legacies.
4) Utilize school-based teen pregnancy prevention/interventions as strategies in addressing the gap. Such interventions have the potential to help teens acquire the knowledge and skills needed to postpone sex, practice safer sex, avoid unintended pregnancy, and if pregnant, to complete high school and pursue postsecondary education. Teenage mothers are more likely to delay their education in comparison to their peers who postpone motherhood.
5) Recognize the role of racism and certain other social determinants as factors in the achievement gap among black students:
- Hire and retain black and culturally competent faculty and staff through the establishment of formal and informal relationships with the HBCUs.
- Recruit recent graduates with financial incentives that include affordable housing, assumption of student loan debts, competitive salary packages, etc.
- Provide ongoing professional development.
- Monitor other needs of students as they present themselves including nutritional, housing, juvenile justice, family resources.
6) Give and show respect for each student without regard for the areas in which they live, the job titles of parents, or degrees parents may have.
7) Observation of a retired teacher who taught 37 years in the public schools: “When they took prayer out of the schools, that was the worst thing that could have ever happened. Because some days if it had not been for prayer, Lord, I would be in jail. I simply ask God to give me the strength to remember that that child was not my biological child.”
8) Children don’t know and need to be taught why objective truth matters rather than being left with a moral vacuum where truth may be regarded as subjective and arbitrary. Churches and other faith-based groups can help address this vacuum by adopting a school via after-school programs in which interested parents may voluntarily enroll their children for academic and spiritual tutoring to help address both the academic achievement gap and the moral/ethical vacuum—as evidenced by an increasing suicide rate among African American boys.
From 2001 to 2015, the suicide risk for African American boys between the ages of 5 and 11 was two to three times higher than that of white boys, according to a new research letter in JAMA Pediatrics (Bridge, 2018). This concerning trend continues through adolescence as reported by the Nationwide Youth Risk Behavior Survey (Kann et al., 2017). The rates of attempted suicide, including attempts that resulted in injury, poisoning, or overdose, are 1.2 times higher among African American males compared to white males.
9) Promote fatherhood: A father, mother and child are the ideal family unit. Although the ideal isn’t possible for everyone, students should be encouraged to marry before having babies. When nearly 75% of African American babies are born out of wedlock and raised largely by single mothers with absent fathers, it should be no surprise that poverty and incarceration rates are high. Dads matter! They impact their child’s self-esteem, intellectual development, independence, courage, social development, spiritual life, and respect for the opposite sex.