By Bill Korach www.thereportcard.org
According to the California State Department of Education, 75% of black males student are not proficient in reading and writing standards set by the state. More than half of black boys scored in the lowest category on the English portion of the test, trailing their female counterparts. The disparity reflects a stubbornly persistent gender gap in reading and writing scores that stretches across ethnic groups. the California Department of Education is noncommittal on whether the gender reading gap is worthy of the administration’s attention. Differences between boys and girls still pale in comparison to differences found by race, ethnicity and class.
“There have often been gender gaps in performance,” a department spokesman said by email. “These gaps show up in different ways depending on what is being measured.…Some gender gaps are more noticeable within certain race/ethnicities.”
Of course the fact that 75% of black males cannot meet basic reading and writing standards is shocking, and more shocking is that California educators seem to have no answer for it. In many public school systems black males do perform poorly, but these same student can perform well in awell-structured disciplined environment. The NY Success Academy Charter school Harlem west students have had great success teaching black students who come from underprivileged backgrounds. According to teacher Nick Simmons:
“Over the past three school years, I unintentionally participated in a tragic educational case study on the west side of Harlem. I worked in the same building as the Wadleigh Secondary School, at which 0% of students in grades six through eight met state standards in math or English. That isn’t a typo: Not a single one of the 33 students passed either exam, though many of the questions are as straightforward as “What is 15% of 60?”
Two floors above Wadleigh, I taught math at Success Academy Harlem West, a public charter school. The students there eat in the same cafeteria, exercise in the same gym and enjoy recess in the same courtyard. They also live on the same blocks and face many of the same challenges. The poverty rate at Wadleigh is 72%; at Harlem West, it is 60%. At both schools, more than 95% of students are black or Hispanic. About the only difference is that families at Harlem West won an admissions lottery.
Yet for our students, the academic year ended in triumph: 96% were proficient in math—compared with 35% citywide—and 80% scored at the advanced level. In reading and writing, 75% of our students were proficient, compared with 30% citywide.
This was not easy. My students do not have easy lives. Many are in households in which no English is spoken, or have moved in and out of homeless shelters. Others shoulder the primary responsibility of raising younger siblings. Yet we set high expectations. Our school day runs from 7:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m., and teachers spend evenings and weekends speaking with families about their children’s progress. This blueprint works. Rigorous, well-designed and joyful schools can overcome the challenges of poverty.”
Perhaps the California Department of Education should send a team to Harlem West and learn what that school is doing correctly and bring it to California.