Submitted by Dave O’Keeffe.
In the 11 years I led the work of Communities In Schools of Lakewood (CISL) I witnessed the tremendous impact of poverty on learning. The OSPI Report Card (easy to Google) shows that 65.9% of students in Clover Park schools identified as low-income. Let this sink in: 8,287 students face poverty realities and barriers such as language, housing and food insecurity, successful adult role models, and others which most of the people reading this column cannot imagine.
More perspective: High schools.com shows that Clover Park High School is ranked 19th out of 689 ranked schools in Washington, for total students on lunch assistance (83.4%!). This is significantly higher than the state average of 41.6%.
Add to that COVID 19 remote learning challenges and it becomes a wonder that so many ARE ACHIEVING AND GRADUATING ON TIME. They are achieving because of the concerted efforts of passionate educators and community organizations like Caring for Kids (bless you Diane Formoso!), Boys and Girls Club, CISL, YMCA and others who are rarely recognized for hard, heart work.
To get a perspective on student achievement, one must look at data through an income lens:
- 44.8% of low-income students are meeting standard in ELA (English Language Arts), while 67.3% of non low-income students are achieving. An alarming gap of 22.5%!
- 33.1% of low-income students are meeting standard in Math, while 53.7% of non low-income students are achieving. A gap of 20.6%.
- 86.1% of low-income students graduate on time, while 92.9% of non low-income students graduate. A gap of 6.8%.
These students are in the same classrooms, but having different results, which shows the real problem lies outside of schools. Student achievement is a community issue which can only be improved when the community works together to address poverty barriers.
It’s interesting to note that the percentage of low-income students in Tacoma Public Schools is lower than Clover Park, yet their graduation, ELA and Math achievement rates are almost identical. And this despite the herculean efforts of Graduate Tacoma where 300 community partners—early learning and higher education, business and labor, youth and community service, civic and philanthropy, local government and communities of faith – are aligning their work with Tacoma schools to impact student success.
One can only imagine what would happen if the Lakewood community banded together like this to support schools and students!
On that note, I propose a shift in our thinking about school leadership. What if instead of blaming the school board and administrators for low academic achievement, we each do our part to impact students, one child at a time. The district website offers a wide range of volunteer opportunities, some linked to community organizations. For example, CISL screens and trains people to mentor students remotely, like pen pals. After-school programs are looking for tutors.
In closing, I’d like to see an end to misinformation regarding equity and CRT, which are mostly Fox News talking points. The school district has a well thought out and balanced approach to ensuring ALL students have access to the resources they need to succeed. Check out their website.
Here is an excerpt: As part of the district’s focus on equity, we discuss equity in terms of:
- Inquiring, affirming, and meeting diverse needs
- Identifying and removing barriers to equity that exist operationally and systemically
- Maintaining high standards, rigor and expectations
- A commitment to discover what works and for whom
As for CRT, I trust that students exposed to the truth of systemic racism will not develop feelings of guilt, but rather feelings of empathy. I trust that if they recognize that they have privileges and advantages because of their skin color, they will work to make sure that everyone has the same privileges and advantages, regardless of skin color. Hopefully, when these young people become legislators and leaders, they will not repeat the sins of the past but will have learned from them, seeking reconciliation, redress and a dismantling of systemic racism instead.
I’m sure I’ll get nasty comments to this article, but I stand by three truths: 1) Schools cannot do it alone; 2) It takes a village to raise a child; 3) Each one, teach one.