Racial Justice NOW! responds to Learn to Earn “Know the Gap Close the Gap” data release

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Dayton, OH. (Feb. 21, 2017) – On the morning of January 27, 2017 the Dayton Racquet club was filled with community leaders for an event hosted by Learn to Earn Dayton. The gathering was organized to highlight new data that shows achievement levels for Montgomery County students, grades K-12, based on race. The data revealed that the achievement rate for Black boys and girls are significantly lower than their white counterparts, specifically, Black boys.

The keynote speaker for the event was Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings, professor of urban education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and theorist of culturally relevant teaching. She encouraged a holistic approach to education be taken and also reframed the idea of an implied achievement gap, stating that we instead have an “education debt”

While the Learn to Earn “Know the Gap, Close the Gap” data considered factors like suspension rates and social-economic factors, Dr. Ladson-Billings suggested that issues like housing, health, and after-school activities are to be considered in part with the curriculum. She also indicated that educators have a role in moving beyond sympathy to demanding success versus using socio-economic status to give a pass to failure. Dr. Ladson-Billings theory is based on the need for a shift to occur in how students are labeled. The labeling of students in early education as at-risk, psychologically defines them, leaving a negative impact on self-worth and awareness. The term “achievement gap” also suggests that it is up to the students and teachers to “catch up” versus looking at how “all of us will begin to pay down this mountain of debt that we have amassed at the expense of entire groups of people and their subsequent generations,” says Dr. Ladson-Billings.

Racial Justice NOW! was glad to see that Dr. Ladson-Billings challenged the achievement data. As a Black led organization that serves Back parents and students, we see the data release as incomplete and out of context. Unfortunately for our community, showing that Black boys and girls are on the bottom academically, without putting into context the long history of this nation’s oppressive and racist institutional policies and practices only reinforces the idea of Black inferiority. Dr. Ladson-Billings challenged the idea of Black inferiority by asking a simple question: “Who is the highest performing sub group? While some in the crowd answered white males, and others said Asians, the reality was Nigerians were the highest performing subgroup.

At this time, it is unclear the intentions of the release of this data, but it must be noted that Black scholars have studied and presented solutions to the numerous educational barriers in the Black community. Sadly enough, Black scholarship has been dismissed in solving the education crisis that we currently face and have been facing. We must also note that Blacks in America were not allowed to read for over three hundreds, facing the penalty of a bull whip and many times death.

We have listened to many influential people in the community who feel like action will be taken following such a significant data release, but many of us thought the same when Montgomery County released the opportunity mapping data, but significant action has been found wanting.
Will the county invest in Black Boys? Will the investment be based in the same superior/inferior paradigm where black children must submit to a white school curriculum? Curriculum and policies have yet to deal with the effects of 400+ years of oppression and racism in education, as well as how the American government views and funds education. This, overall, adds to the social, political and economic consequences that come from devaluing Black lives.

We need a radical shift in our consciousness in regards to what we believe about Black children and how they learn. We need a radical shift in policy change and we need to invest in the education of young people, their parents, and the community.

Before we can implement effective solutions we must answer the question of what equity means for a people that have been intentionally, strategically, and systemically divested in and oppressed at every level of society. We must also stop demanding that Black children conform to white culture and instead present opportunities to engage in a curriculum and learning environment that is culturally relevant.

We challenge community leaders to take the advice that keynote speaker Dr. Ladson Billings gave when she told everyone in attendance to read Mis-Education of the Negro by Dr. Carter G. Woodson (which is coincidentally the same book that RJN demanded be implemented in the Dayton Public Schools curriculum). Additionally, we ask will Montgomery County invest in grassroots organizations to create more after school programs as Dr. Ladson Billings advised.

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