The Seattle Times came out with a story today about the “Alarming” achievement gap between African American students and the children of African immigrants. Apparently the Seattle School district studied their data and found that African American students perform significantly worse than their African classmates, even when you control for factors such as income and single-parent families.
I’m glad the Times ran this article. It’s hard – not to mention awkward – to generalize when you’re talking about something as emotionally charged as race, but when something like this comes along, you sort of have to. That is, after all, the whole point of analyzing data.
Most teachers have noticed this phenomenon for years. I certainly have. Our school has a large proportion of both populations, and most African immigrants are among the most motivated students in the school. Their parents push them hard and are very supportive of everything we do in school. In talking with these parents, I’ve always gotten the sense that educational opportunity was one of the main reasons for their being here, and they have no intention of watching their children squander that opportunity. I get the feeling, from working with many of these families, that they genuinely trust the teachers, the schools and the entire educational system.
As we know all too well, African American families don’t exactly share that same trust of our educational system. Nor should they; our educational system hasn’t exactly spent the past two hundred years earning that trust. There's no question but that this lack of trust interferes with their children's success in school. It's unfortunate, it's sad, but it's true.
What this data shows is that success in school has nothing to do with race. It might have something to do with poverty, but it has everything to do with the relationships between our schools and our families.
What I want to know is this: where do we go from here? How do we build productive relationships with all of our families so that every child succeeds?