Urgency needed to close Kentucky’s racial academic achievement gap
Over the last four days, the Prichard Committee hosted 10 virtual conversations about racial equity in Kentucky’s schools for its Black Minds Matter series. The events Thursday and Friday put an exclamation point on a robust week of dialog (synopses of Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s conversations can be found on our blog).
In a Thursday interview with Prichard’s President and CEO Brigitte Blom Ramsey, Sadiqa Reynolds of the Louisville Urban League spoke of the urgency needed to close Kentucky’s academic achievement gap, which isn’t preparing Black students for college and career at the same rate as their White peers. Just one statistic illustrating this fact is the 32.5% gap between Kentucky White and Black students on their readiness to transition from high school to college or career.
“We don’t have time for another study. This needs to be fixed now – we cannot lose another generation. We need to move at the speed of business. We love our young people enough to have urgency.”
Kentucky, like other states in the nation, has deeply seeded racial inequities embedded into its societal systems, which all trickle down into our education system resulting in a pervasive academic achievement gap between Black students and their peers.
Panelists from our Student Voice Team (SVT) discussion said the fact that many students aren’t even aware of this systemic racism is part of the problem, and defining that problem for future students can be part of a solution.
“If I hadn’t learned the phrase ‘systemic racism’ outside of school I never would have learned it,” said Emmy Sippy, the SVT student director and a student at Henry Clay High School in Lexington. “Racism is built into our institutions. In order for us to actually address history and our present issues, we have to take a community-oriented approach.”
Aditi Kona, a rising sophomore at North Oldham High School, said African American history throughout her school career has been inadequate, which can lead to students becoming adults who lack cultural competency.
“From Kindergarten we only learned about the civil rights movement, slavery and segregation. Teachers usually just play a video and don’t try to explain it,” said Kona. “How do you expect kids to learn and talk about racial issues by just watching a video?”
Afi Tagnedji, an immigrant from Togo and graduate of Iroquois High School in Louisville, said community building is also important.
“You can’t just put up a blanket ‘racism is bad’ statement on the wall of a school,” she said. “You have to build a community and have teachers from the community that are teaching why its bad.”
Donavan Pinner, an alumnus of Hopkinsville High School and a recent graduate of Morehouse College, said recruitment of Black teachers, school administrators and district leadership is key. He also pointed out that there are only 47 Black Kentuckians holding seats on local boards of education, when there are a total of 862 seats in the state.
“We need better recruitment and to ensure teachers in minority communities have cultural competency in the classroom. It can’t be just one black principal or a janitor,” said Pinner. “Students need to have lots of diversity so they know that they can succeed.”
In a Friday conversation, Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education President Dr. Aaron Thompson said solutions for racial inequities in our schools can be realized through four steps: awareness, acknowledgement, acceptance and action. This concept is explained in this excerpt from his book, Implementing Innovative Leadership in an Inclusive Learning Environment. Faculty and staff in both colleges and K-12 schools should be educated about racial bias with this approach.
“This has to be a scaffold way of us thinking about long term commitments to good education for our faculty. If we’re ever going to get to a culturally competent system, a way for faculty to look at every student in that classroom and learn from it, and be aware that they may be different but they have a lot to offer even me, as a faculty member to grow.”
Thompson added that students should also have implicit bias courses in their first year of college as a way to become aware of their biases and beliefs, and should be taught how to learn how to learn from students from different backgrounds. Learn more about Thompson’s approach to implicit bias training in his book, Diversity & the College Experience.
Stay tuned to the Prichard Committee in the coming weeks as we compile these conversations into actions. You can also join our Equity Coalition to stay in the know about our next steps and to learn how you can participate in our efforts to close Kentucky’s racial achievement gaps and remind all citizens that Black Minds Matter.