The Pinellas School Board made a legal promise in July to help accelerate the learning of black students and start closing the yawning achievement gap. But so far the schools are taking baby steps, not the bold and meaningful leaps necessary right to make a real difference. The goals are commendable, but there needs to be a stronger commitment to reach them.
The various schools' plans are meant to honor a "memo of understanding" requiring the district to carefully monitor black student performance, more equitably spend money to close achievement gaps and hold school-level officials accountable. This past summer's agreement flows from the 45-year-old lawsuit, Bradley vs. Pinellas County School Board, that desegregated Pinellas schools.
But some of the individual school plans are disappointingly vague. One school's plan promises that "technology will be utilized on a regular basis in all classrooms as well as in the computer lab." Another hopes to "create a mentoring program.'' That's not bold vision; that's making general promises to correct shortcomings.
Sometimes, the answers are fairly simple and direct. There are complex reasons why the achievement gap exists, but one thing is clear: Students who are behind are not going to catch up — much less get ahead — in schools that do the same old thing. In fact, students who are behind will catch up only by working longer and harder and with more individual attention. That means more time in class as well as more intense and concentrated interaction between the student and the teacher. Longer school days and more one-on-one contact are two potential solutions. Promising that "technology will be utilized on a regular basis" is not.
Models for success already exist. The growing national network of KIPP charter schools, for example, is showing substantial academic gains from low-income black students with 10-hour school days and character education, among other things.
It will take money and time to fix a problem that has been festering for decades. But that is exactly why relying on familiar strategies and generalities falls short. A young child's need to learn is an urgent thing that is miserably mismatched to the glacial pace of school bureaucracy. And as every month and then every year passes, the gap is that much harder to close.