Where is the plan? Where is Tacoma Public Schools’ plan to close the achievement gap? Vibrant Schools Tacoma has been asking this important question for two years.
In 2010, five very concerned citizens met to discuss the academic achievement of all Tacoma students, especially students who have been poorly served for decades.
Vibrant Schools Tacoma was formed to join the efforts of the Tacoma Pierce County Black Collective and the Tacoma branch of the NAACP, groups which have been insisting for the past 40 years that the district focus more attention on closing the achievement gap for African-American, Latino-American, Native American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders students relative to white and Asian students.
Vibrant Schools’ mission affirms that we are a diverse coalition of community organizations, businesses and individuals committed to ensuring that Tacoma students of color and students impacted by poverty graduate high school college-eligible and career ready.
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The district has implemented several promising initiatives, and according to district reporting, the graduation rate has improved over the last five years. Vibrant Schools Tacoma applauds this progress. However, our analysis of the district’s data reveals that the achievement gap – about 20 points – persists for African-American, Latino-American, Native American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders students relative to white and Asian students.
Tacoma’s third- and fifth-grade reading and math scores for 2010-2014 reveal that white students on free and reduced lunches outperform students of color not on free and reduced lunches. Poverty does not explain the achievement gap; race does. What are the implications?
Information posted on the district’s website indicate that the district is now using report card standards (RCS) as an additional tool for assessing student academic progress. When the RCS results are placed side by side on the same page with results from the state test, the achievement gap between groups remain the same – about 20 points.
I worked and taught in Tacoma Public Schools for 30 plus years, and upon retiring in 2007, I felt it was imperative to stay active in the role of an advocate and activist for students who have historically struggled in their academic worlds. My teaching experience revealed to me that every student I encountered longed to be successful in the public school classroom. All parents or guardians wanted their children to be successful in the public school classroom.
I understood that a student impacted by poverty and every student of color clearly has the ability to think critically and at a high level. My principal knew that, too. As challenging as it was, she and our teaching staff developed a building plan to close the achievement gap. If we could have aligned that effort with a district plan, the potential for improved outcomes likely would have been significant.
A systematically created districtwide plan for closing the achievement gap would ensure that principals and teachers have clear direction and time to think comprehensively about how to create and implement an effective building plan. The lack of a districtwide plan sends the message that the building plan isn’t very important.
When there is no district-level plan, principals and teachers are continually buffeted by and reacting to multiple district initiatives. Principals and teachers get frustrated because they have limited time to plan thoughtfully to ensure that each student can be successful.
As I write this, I can see the eager faces of the students who flourished in my school, with our excellent principal and our buildingwide plan that focused on each student’s success. Every student in the Tacoma Public Schools deserves this kind of classroom environment. Without this kind of plan, implementation can be ineffective for student academic success.
Once again, we ask: Where is the district’s plan for closing the achievement gap?
Eve Bowen is a retired educator with 30 years of experience in public schools. She was one of the co-founders of Vibrant Schools Tacoma Coalition, which began its work in 2011, and she remains active in several grass-roots social justice organizations including the Black Collective and The Conversation.