At ETHS, our top district challenge is to chip away and eventually eliminate the historic '2 schools in one' reality, meaning that our white students achieve at some of the highest possible levels, and our students of color are, on average, performing significantly lower. Achievement gaps are not unique to Evansotn by any means, but are instead a national problem. I have been lucky to help start and work with Project Excite over the past 15 years, where we work with 3rd grade students and then support them with enrichment classes, family support, and peer role models up through middle school. Data on the old ISAT and EXPLORE tests show that the achievement gap is eliminated in math and reading over that period of time. So there are things that can be done that work on preparation.
A new study on the gap issue has been summarized in the New York Times, which has some interesting interactive graphics that allow the reader to see the gaps for hundreds of districts nationwide for 6th grade students. Evanston DIst. 65 is in this sample. Evanston was noted in the article as a district with high median income (one of the wealthier areas with a diverse population), but with a large gap. While over 40% of Evanston's students are on free or reduced lunch (i.e. low income), the median income is over $90,000, so we have wealthy students standing side by side with students from poor households. Most of the low income students are minority. It has been no secret for some time that socioeconomic status is the one consistent indicator of academic performance in school.
One thing we know from Excite is that there is no quick fix to achievement gaps. It is a multi-year solution. Another piece of this is common sense, if you start working on the problems at earlier ages, you are more likely to make a difference. We know it is an incredibly complex issue, part cultural, part economic, part environment, part mindset, part peer pressure, part role model, part family support, part curriculum, and so on. Issues are different for each individual student and family.
Let's keep trying, before another generation of students finds itself locked into the same achievement and performance gaps as years' past.