A coalition of students, parents and community organizers is calling on Chapel Hill-Carrboro City schools to close the achievement gap between minority and white students.
In a recent report, the group, The Campaign for Racial Equity in Our Schools, urges school leaders to increase access to gifted education programs, provide a race-conscious curriculum and to require training on implicit bias.
School officials say they’re listening to community members and have been developing a long-range plan that holds teachers more accountable.
“We also don't like what these statistics are, we don't,” said Sheldon Lanier, director of Equity Leadership for the school system.
‘We have a race problem in our schools’
At a Wednesday press conference, the coalition made one message very clear: “Our schools are in a crisis situation,” said group co-founder Stephanie Perry.
Perry said that while Chapel Hill-Carrboro City schools hold a reputation of being among the best in the state, the numbers reflect mostly white, affluent families.
“We have a race problem in our schools,” she said. “The public education institution was designed when racism was the law of the land…and that’s the root cause we need to address.”
The group said that black students are suspended at eight times the rate of white students, and that less than half of them pass end-of-course and end-of-grade exams.
Perry and others point to the fact that 85 percent of black male students in the 8th grade were unable to pass the end-of-grade reading test in 2013.
Mary Carey, a Chapel Hill mother and founder of Bootstraps, said research shows that a child who is not reading at grade-level by the end of third grade is more likely to face challenges later on.
“They’re more likely to drop out of school, more likely to become a pregnant teen, more likely abuse drugs and alcohol, more likely to be unemployed, more likely to enter the criminal justice center,” Carey said.
While eighth grade black males performed the worst on end-of-grade exams than their peers, every subgroup saw dramatic decreases in test scores in 2013. That was the year the tests aligned with the new Common Core standards.
Still, black and Latino students continue to lag behind.
In 2013, about 20 percent of all black students passed their exams. That jumped up to about 44 percent in 2015.
White students, on the other hand, went from 82 percent proficient in 2013 to 90 percent in 2015.
During the press conference, Judy Jones, a retired science teacher, said that the high schools have become re-segregated through the process of tracking students into honors and standard-level courses, instead of advanced placement classes.
“When you walk into classrooms, you can identify the level based on the ethnic percentages represented,” Jones said. “Standard classes have an abundance of students of color, while honors and Advanced Placement classes will often have only one student of color, if that.”
‘We are listening’
District officials said that they share a common goal with the advocates, and that they’re working on a long-range plan that’s aimed at getting rid of the achievement gap.
They noted that the school system is only one of three in North Carolina with a full-time Director of Equity.
Superintendent Thomas Forcella also noted that on end-of-course tests, CHCCS African-American students increased from 27 percent proficient in 2013 to 44.3 percent in 2014, outscoring Wake, Orange, Durham and North Carolina as a whole.
“Even though forty-five percent is not proficient, it’s the best in the triangle, and five years ago, it wasn’t. Is it good enough? No, it’s not good enough.”
Forcella said that test increases made by black students far surpassed the increases made by Asian, Latino and white students.
The district is also aiming to hold teachers more accountable, explained Forcella, through a “culture changing” program that will reward teachers not by years of experience, but by how much they grow.
Under the plan, teachers will earn greater pay as they deepen their skills over the course of their careers.
Lanier said they will be encouraged to use data to help guide their instruction and to see which students need extra attention or more advanced work.
“If you are a public school teacher and you’re going into education to teach all students, that means you need to reach all students,” Lanier explained. “And that means you need to have results for all students, or otherwise you need to get out of the door.”
Lanier also said the district will provide trainings that examine how policy affects race and equity.
“We’re going deeper in terms of implicit bias and bring it to the forefront, so people are aware of it.”