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The Initiative to Close the Academic Achievement Gap
The Civil Rights Challenge of Today
A huge gap exists in the academic achievement between African American and white students.  For example, on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the average African American 17-year old scored the same as the average white 13-year old.  This is the reality that strips children of their hopes and dreams.  Know the performance of your school!  Know the performance of your district!  Because nothing happens until someone does something; you must act.  This academic achievement gap is the civil rights challenge of today.

The Why and What of the Racial Academic Achievement Gap:  Click here to read in new window
pg 78-79 -- Black Pages 15th ed.

Executive Summary:  (2B)
Racial Disparity Report Card  (2B1)

At the Black Leadership Roundtable Summit in June 2000, the Education Committee presented its Strategic Plan for Spring 2001-2003 to the community.  The first goal in the Strategic Plan was to create a metropolitan African American Report Card to report the available academic achievement data of African American students by district and by school to disseminate the information throughout the community.  In April 2001, the BLR, in conjunction with the St. Louis Black Pages,
published the “Racial Disparity Report Card” containing Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) TerraNova© scores disaggregated by race for each school in St. Louis City and St. Louis County.  The data revealed a significant gap between the test scores of black and white students.  The report showed that black students in Missouri scored on average in the 34th - 44th percentile on the TerraNova© while white students in Missouri scored in the 67th – 77th percentile.  The report card was followed in June 2001 with a news conference at which the Roundtable declared the racial achievement gap a crises, which deserves immediate emergency action by every school district across the area.
    Click here to see: Report cards  (2B1a) Back to Top
African American Achievement Gap Summit (2B2)
In July 2001, the BLR-EDU hosted a Summit covering the topic of closing the African American Achievement Gap that was attended by a diverse group of over 200 citizens, which included educators, administrators, school board members, parents and other concerned community activists.  The standing room only conference provided the much needed opportunity for dialogue on the issue of the gap.  At the conference, the attendees heard the Roundtable strategy for eliminating the gap.  The strategy calls for area school districts to adopt resolutions to develop and implement plans to rapidly eliminate the achievement gap.

Emergency Action Resolutions  (2B3)
In September 2001, area superintendents and school board members received materials from the Roundtable formally requesting that they adopt the Emergency Action Resolution to eliminate the African American Achievement Gap.  In response to the issuance of a Call of Action to area school districts to adopt an Emergency Action Resolution, the BLR-EDU received formal school board resolutions from twenty-three (23) out of twenty-four (24) districts, and from the Board of Cooperating School Districts.  In our review of the Emergency Action Resolutions, we have determined that sixteen (17) districts have adopted resolutions that are consistent in all respects with the spirit and essence of our Call to Action.  Those school districts are:  Brentwood, Clayton, Hancock Place, Hazelwood, Jennings, Kirkwood, Maplewood-Richmond Heights, Normandy, Parkway, Pattonville, Riverview Gardens, Rockwood, University City, Valley Park, Webster Groves, Wellston and Cooperating School Districts. 
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Four Essentials and Four Most Desirables (2B4)
It is the fiduciary responsibility of each individual school district to create and implement a plan that will eliminate the gap within their school system and with their students.  BLR-EDU itself has struggled for well over a decade in relation to the specific reasons why and viable strategies for eliminating the gap.  It has concluded that there are four essential elements that must be aggressively and simultaneously addressed if the gap is to rapidly close.  It feels that it would be unfair to challenge school districts without offering suggestions as to where they might look for solutions.  As districts work to create and implement successful plans, the BLR-EDU thus suggests that they carefully examine the strategies which it believes are vital in any feasible initiative to eliminate the gap.  These strategies are comprised of four essentials and four most desirables.  The first two essentials deal with educators and include a high-quality, well-paid, effective teacher in every classroom, and a meaningful long term relationship with an empowered teacher for each child through the implementation of mega-looping.  Just as important are the points three and four, which are a principal who is the instructional leader with the limited, direct responsibilities of staff development and student outcomes, and the effective utilization and integration of technology.  The four most desirables are culturally competent educators and staff, testing for diagnostic purposes, providing facilities, equipment, and environment that are conducive learning, and reduce the impact of mobility within the student population, where necessary.

Click here to read more about : four Essentials

The Four Essentials (2B4a)
  1. A high-quality, well-paid,effective teacher in every classroom
  2. A meaningful long-term relationship with an empowered teacher for each child, via
    implementation of mega-looping
  3. A principal who is the instructional leader whose primary responsibilities are limited  
          to staff development and student outcomes
  4. Effective utilization and integration of technology
The Four Most Desirables (2B4b)
  1. Culturally-competent educators and staff
  2. Testing for diagnostic and prescriptive purposes
  3. Proiding facilities, equipment, and environment that are conducive to learning
  4. Reduce the impact of student mobility, where necessary
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Four For Our Future (2B5)
In establishing relationships with all of the districts and examining the resolutions passed, the BLR-EDU came to an unavoidable crossroads with the St. Louis City Public School District.   With St. Louis City’s resolve fixed merely on accreditation, the district refused to pass a resolution committed to increasing student outcomes.  The BLR-EDU was, therefore, forced to conclude that this was a school board unwilling to explicitly and aggressively impact improving student outcomes and so realized that it could not sit out  an important election effecting 43,000 children.  Our strategy began by seeking and gaining financial support from Civic Progress and the Regional Business Council.  Then with Mayor Slay’s support, the Education Coalition was formed which first developed a platform and then interviewed and selected candidates committed to implementing that platform. Much of 2002 and the beginning of 2003 were spent putting together this alliance, raising funds, and ensuring the success of the election. On April 8th, 2003, “Four For Our Future”, including two of BLR-EDU’s very own, won by a landslide, representing a voting majority on the St. Louis City School Board.  BLR-EDU member, Darnetta Clinkscale, was soon thereafter named President of the Board, and our previous BLR-EDU Chair, Ron Jackson, became Vice-President.  In addition, “Four For Our Future” has adopted a platform that is equivalent to our “Four Essentials.” The BLR-EDU agenda and that of the St. Louis Public School Board is now aligned.

Four for Our Future Platform (2B5a)

The welfare of our children and our community demands dramatic and rapid improvement in the St. Louis Public Schools.  Extraordinary change must be an urgent priority.  It is the St. Louis Board of Election, working cooperatively and effectively with the community that must lead the effort to assure necessary educational improvements, with a fresh approach insisting that all aspects of the district are open to change.

Accountability     begins with the Board.  It is the responsibility of the Board of Education to determine the priorities and establish the strategic direction for the district.  It is the role of the Board to adopt clear, effective educational and managerial policies.  It is the duty of the Board to ensure that the Superintendent executes the policies fully, effectively, and expeditiously in accordance with the priorities and strategic direction. 
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Guiding Principles
  • Education (academic excellence and character development) of our children comes first.
  • Everything we do must be focused on improving the education of our children.
  • Leadership and accountability at all levels are the key to success.
  • Parents, families of students, and teachers of the St. Louis community are our partners in educating our children and improving our school system.
Educational Policies and Priorities
  1. There must be a high-quality, well-paid, culturally-competent, effective teacher in every classroom.
  2. Strategies must be employed to develop meaningful long-term relationships between empowered teachers and their students.
  3. Each school building must have a principal who is an effective instructional leader whose primary responsibility is improving instruction and student outcomes, as well as staff selection, development and evaluation.  It is essential that each building create the appropriate environment to promote academic excellence and character development.
  4. Technology must be utilized effectively to enhance the quality of instruction and focus on the individual needs of every child.
Management Policies and Priorities
  1. The district must have an efficient logistical infrastructure to ensure that teachers have all the tools they need when they need them in safe, well-equipped, well-maintained facilities to carry out their instructional mission.
  2. The district must have a strategic planning process, budgeting process and accounting controls based on instructional goals and programs.  The district shall provide useful reports in a timely manner for purposes of sound fiscal management.
  3. The district shall measure student achievement and other key indicators of school and district performance.  The measurements shall be tied to the district’s strategic plan, be timely and made public.
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Partnership with Cooperating School Districts  (2B6)
Cooperating School Districts, recognizing alignment with the goals and strategies of BLR-EDU, has been a most valuable partner in the implementation of the BLR-EDU strategic plan.  John Oldani and his staff are valued, respected, and appreciated partners.

The Superintendent Alliance  (2B7)
Starting in 2002, the BLR-EDU established ongoing dialogue with five Superintendents, on behalf of all twenty-four of the St. Louis School District Superintendents, regarding the issue of closing the achievement gap.  A series of conferences between BLR-EDU, CSD and the superintendents have taken place to date and continue in order to foster and maintain excellent working relationships with the districts and them with us.  

Partnership with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Educaton  (DESE) (2B8)
Starting in 2002, BLR-EDU began working closely with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and the Missouri Advisory Council of Certification for Educators (MACCE) to assist in the development of state policy to address closing the racial achievement gap.  We have had a series of meetings and established open communication with these two groups, and we continue to make various suggestions to them on how to incorporate our four essentials into state legislation and regulations.  Areas of concern that we have had dialogue include:

  1. Accountability from the classroom teacher level to the state board level
  2. Mandated support services for deficient schools
  3. Strategies for implementing mega-looping
  4. State mandated professional development
  5. A district option to voluntarily access support services mandated for deficient schools
  6. Pre-Service teacher preparation  
DESE Grant  (2B9)
In 2002, DESE approved a grant of $50,000 to CSD to contract with BLR-EDU to hold a series of professional development events and planning conferences regarding staff development and a 2004 Closing the Gap/No Child Left Behind Conference.  A second grant was applied for and is anticipated.
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Dr. Ronald F. Ferguson Presentations  (2B10)
In cooperation with Rep. Juanita Head Walton and CSD, the BLR-EDU sponsored a series of talks by Harvard’s Dr. Ronald Ferguson in April of 2003.  Dr. Ferguson, a leading expert in education policy, was brought to St. Louis to address and dispel myths regarding the cynicism of African American students and their families, to present up to date research on the attitudes between students and teachers and the impact of these attitudes in the classroom, to reinforce the importance of relationships to learning, and to convey a much better understanding of the psychology of African American school children. Dr. Ferguson presented to a series of different groups including: teachers, school board members and educators, superintendents, parents and the community at large, and a private group made up of BLR-EDU leadership.   

Closing the African American Achievement Gap Public Forum  (2B11)
In May of 2003, the BLR-EDU and CSD hosted a public forum at the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL) designed to initiate the planning process for the 2004 Closing the Achievement Gap/No Child Left Behind Conference.  The keynote speaker for the forum was Dr. Rudolph Crew, Director of District Reform Initiatives, Stupski Family Foundation and Former Chancellor of the New York Public Schools.  In his major address at the conference, as well as in a series of private discussions with BLR-EDU leadership, CSD, DESE, school board members and business leaders, Dr. Crew drove home the importance of strategies and skills inside schools and classrooms for eliminating the gap.  Crew emphasized the impact of teachers in terms of inspiring, fostering and nurturing learning and the importance of human relationships in accomplishing that.  In addition to Crew’s address, there was a panel presentation by Pattonville School District highlighting the significant increases in their student’s MAP scores over the past five years.  Following the presentation was a variety of breakout sessions devised to tackle questions and help shape the topics, discussions and speakers for the 2004 national conference.
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Co-Sponsorships  (2B12)
In addition to its self-sponsored events and activities, the BLR-EDU co-sponsored the State’s Closing the Achievement Gap Summit in Jefferson City in 2002 and, in St. Louis,  the Hager-Holloway
Public Forum,  "Race, Class and the Education of Every Child" in 2003.

Initiative Participants  (2B13)
In addition to the individual school districts, Cooperating School Districts, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and the Missouri Advisory Council of Certification for Educators (MACCE), the BLR-EDU are also working with the Missouri Higher Education Coordinating Board, the Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation, and the Regional Educational Partnership for Excellence in Urban Teacher Preparation.  We are also working in conjunction with the Regional Professional Development Center of the Cooperating School Districts, the Board of the Cooperating School Districts, the Urban League, FOCUS St. Louis, Harris Stowe State College, and the National Conference fir Community and Justice, and Vision for Children at Risk.

Summary (2B14)
The Black Leadership Roundtable Education Committee Initiative to Eliminate the Racial Academic Achievement Gap’s Strategic Plan for Spring 2001-2002 was successfully accomplished in all respects.  Its goals were:

  1. To raise community awareness regarding the existence and impact of the gap and its impact on both youth and the region’s future.
  2. To build civic capacity and engagement towards gap elimination.
  3. To challenge the school districts to draft, adopt, and implement emergency action resolutions to eliminate the gap within their district.
  4. To disseminate BLR-EDU’s Four Essentials and Four Most Desirables as suggestions to districts as to where they might look for solutions.
  5. To gain support for and begin planning a major Fall 2004 Conference on Closing the Achievement Gap/Leave No Child Behind as a major staff development and community engagement activity.
  6. To host events to convey state-of-the-art research and insights into closing the gap.
  7. To engage as many integral parties as possible in positive working relations and activities directed at gap elimination.
  8. While not an initial goal, to develop and implement a strategy to participate in the election of a voting majority on the St. Louis School Board firmly committed to improving student outcomes.
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©Saint Louis Black Pages 2003