Nanette Asimov, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, November 12, 2007
Every time state schools chief Jack O'Connell thought he was doing something to close the achievement gap, a new round of test scores showed that black and Latino students had gained no ground on their white and Asian American peers.
Like many educators, O'Connell assumed the culprit was poverty. Then he noticed an even wider ethnic disparity among students who were not poor.
The realization was a jolt: Being black or Latino - not poor - was what the low-scorers had in common. And it changed everything.
O'Connell now believes that widespread cultural ignorance within the
school system is responsible for the poor academic performance of many black and Latino students in school. California
He offered the example of black children who learn at church that it's good to clap, speak loudly and be a bit raucous. But doing the same thing at school, where 72 percent of teachers are white and may be unfamiliar with such customs, will get them in trouble, he said.
The achievement gap is "absolutely, positively not genetic," O'Connell said. "All kids can learn. I'm saying it's racial."
He said that until last year, he presided over a school-ranking system that let ethnic groups of students achieve at a slower pace than schools as a whole had to do.
"We institutionalized lower expectations," said O'Connell, who ended the double standard last year. "We're all guilty."
O'Connell and top educators in the California Department of Education have taken hours of racial sensitivity training, which O'Connell wants to extend to teachers statewide. He's also reorganized the state Department of Education to focus on raising the test scores of black and Latino students.
And now he is taking it to the people with a two-day conference on race and the achievement gap.
Hundreds of experts from around the country will offer 125 different panels with such titles as "A Mindset is a Difficult Thing to Change," and "Policies that Support the Academic Development of Urban Black Males."
Some 4,000 people - teachers, principals, lawyers, school secretaries and others - will pack into the
on Tuesday and Wednesday for what is being billed as an Achievement Gap Summit. Sacramento Convention Center
Keynote speakers include talk-show host Tavis Smiley; "Stand and Deliver" actor Edward James Olmos; and Nicolina Hernandez, who founded the San Joaquin Valley University Project while in high school to help students apply to college.
Also on center stage will be Glenn Singleton, the coach O'Connell hired for the Education Department's racial sensitivity classes. Singleton runs a San Francisco consulting firm called Pacific Educational Group and is the author of "Courageous Conversations about Race: a Strategy for Achieving Equity in Schools."
Contrary to widely held views that parents play a strong role in whether their children do well academically, Singleton believes the schools, not parents, are the biggest influence.
"If we were to say that black or brown kids don't perform as well because of their parents, we're saying black and brown parents aren't as effective as white parents," Singleton told The Chronicle. "That's pretty much a racist statement."
November 12, 2007
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