0
Votes

Interest without Achievement

Survey shows minority students don’t have necessary support

Academic achievement among minority students continues to lag behind that of white students, but pointing fingers at teachers or fighting against the school system will not solve the problem, according to Arlington NAACP president Talmadge Williams. Instead, he says it’s time to turn attention to the community.

“Let’s use that effort to make certain we give the schools, the principals, the teachers what they need,” he said.

Williams said the results of the Youth Culture Survey, released Tuesday, Nov. 19, by the Minority Student Achievement Network show “shocking” results that contradict many stereotypes about African-American and Latino students.

The survey polled over 40,000 students of various racial backgrounds in grades seven through 11 about a variety of subjects.

Superintendents from 15 urban-suburban school districts like Arlington formed the Minority Student Achievement Network in February 1999, with a goal of improving academic achievement of African-American and Latino students. The group continues to conduct research and to develop instructional plans that Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Robert Smith said has “implications for curriculum and teaching.”

MSAN’s most important activity in the next few months, according to Smith, is the Tripod Project, which will study how schools can foster better relationships between teachers and students.

Results of the Youth Culture Survey show that teacher student relationships could be more important to minority achievement than educators previously thought.

AFRICAN-AMERICAN AND LATINO students were about half as likely as white students to say that they work hard because “the teacher demands it,” but they were about twice as likely to say they work hard because “teachers encourage me to work hard.”

That suggests teachers can develop better relationships with students, particularly minority students, Williams said, efforts he supports. But he said blaming the entire problem of the achievement gap on teachers is just an “excuse,” and does not address the larger problems. “You can’t get your arms around this whole big thing called ‘minority achievement,’” he said.

There have been isolated cases of poor teaching, as well as civil rights violations by teachers, Williams said, and those are the times for parents and civic groups like the NAACP to involve themselves in school affairs.

But by and large, he said, school officials should handle instructional matters while civic groups work to improve problems in the community that have an adverse impact on students’ ability to learn.

PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT INCREASES the likelihood of student success, the survey suggests. In all racial groups, about 60 percent of students responded that when they work hard in school they are trying to impress their parents. Although school officials cannot mandate parental involvement, Smith said they can create an environment where parents feel welcome.

“[We are] finding ways we can attract people to school events and make people more involved with their students’ learning,” he said.

Williams agreed on the importance of parental involvement. “Where the parents are involved, students do well,” he said.

Making parents feel more welcome is just one of the school board’s initiatives that are supported by the survey results. The survey showed that among students in advanced-level classes, students of all races spend about the same amount of time on homework. But far fewer African-American and Latino students enroll in advanced classes. Smith said that data “reinforces [the importance of] getting more minorities in advanced classes.”

The school board is already working on the issue, said board member Dave Foster. “I think it is critical that the schools be open and inviting so that we stimulate parental involvement,” he said. Family nights, electronic homework bulletins, reading clubs and bilingual assistance all help bring parents into the educational process, he said.

Making parents feel more welcome is just one of the school board’s initiatives that are supported by the survey results. The survey showed that among students in advanced-level classes, students of all races spend about the same amount of time on homework. But far fewer African-American and Latino students enroll in advanced classes. Smith said that data “reinforces [the importance of] getting more minorities in advanced classes.”

Foster agreed but said the emphasis should be on increasing the number of minority students who are qualified to take advanced classes. That means starting as early as Kindergarten to to prepare them for later success, he said.

WHILE 81 PERCENT of white students reported that their households contained at least 100 books, just 27 percent of black students did. White students in Arlington are about 40 percent more likely than African-American students to live in a house with two or more computers.

In some cases, poverty is to blame for the lack of resources, said Williams. But when viewing the data, it’s important to remember that school districts in the MSAN do not represent true inner-cities, but rather wealthy suburbs.

More often, African-American parents prefer to spend money on material signs of success rather than on educational resources for their children, he said. Many of the same students who do not have access to computers spend hundreds of dollars on the latest basketball shoes.