Guest column: Increasing black student achievement imperative _lowres

Patrick Dobard

Recently, a group of black Louisiana schools superintendents met to discuss the rate at which black students are learning in our school systems. Today in Louisiana, we have more black superintendents of public school systems than at any other time in our state’s history.

This is important because almost 40 percent of the 45.5 percent of black public school students statewide attend school in one of our districts.

While we work hard daily to serve all students regardless of race, we do recognize and accept a higher calling to ensure we focus intently on serving children who look like us and look up to us as figures of authority in their own towns and cities.

Too many times, the only black people our young people see on a regular basis are being shown on the local news in a negative light.

We decided to work with one another to establish best practices to educate students mired in poverty while advocating for and implementing policies that will accelerate the pace of civil rights acquisition in education. Some of these policies include a more flexible funding model and access to high-quality early childhood services and financial aid opportunities.

We also discussed a report released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

This report highlighted the gap among black students and their nonblack peers nationally.

While there has been improved performance over the past 25 years, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to ensure that gaps with nonblack peers are closed and ultimately eliminated.

In Will Sentell’s Dec. 10 article in The Advocate, he highlights the chamber report that says black students in Louisiana have followed this national trend. For example, huge gaps were noted in fourth- and eighth-grade math and reading, which is a troubling statistic for all of us.

While the chamber report points out needed areas of improvement, there is some good news regarding the educational attainment of black students. As recently as 2013, black students in Louisiana scored 6 percentage points lower than black students nationally on the National Assessment of Education Progress reading assessment. Today, that gap is only 1 percent. In 2015, 6,000 more Louisiana students than in 2012 graduated from high school with an ACT score allowing them to go to college without the need for remediation.

The number of black students achieving a college-ready ACT score has increased by 40 percent over that time. It also is important to note Louisiana is the fastest-improving state in the nation on Advanced Placement tests, having increased the number of Advanced Placement credits earned annually by 87 percent since 2012.

The number of black students earning these credits has increased by 160 percent in the same period. This is encouraging, but we want to accelerate the progress of black students.

Civil rights have been a 300-year struggle for black people in Louisiana.

If we are to dramatically change the trajectory of a student’s life, we must talk about and plan for the need to improve educational outcomes, specifically, for black students.

We call on Gov. John Bel Edwards, Board of Elementary and Secondary Education leadership, legislative leadership and others to have these conversations and to not only ensure we serve and support all children but focus intently on black students so that we do not regress on progress made but also not lose focus on equitably serving our youth in poverty.

As black superintendents in Louisiana, we want to ensure that all students have access to and receive a quality education. We want these conversations to start now.

Patrick Dobard, superintendent of the Louisiana Recovery School District, wrote this commentary on behalf of the Black Superintendents Collaborative of Louisiana.