Although only about a dozen black parents showed up at Evanston/Skokie School District 65 headquarters at 6 p.m. Monday for what was billed as a “silent protest,” by the time the district’s monthly board meeting began at 7 p.m., there was standing room only in the large board room.

The audience stayed through the end of the public-comment period nearly two hours later, as 17 of them addressed a sympathetic board with pleas to fix the perennial gap in academic achievement that persists between students of color and their white fellow students.

Before the comments even began, Board President Tracy Quattrocki assured them that every member of the board recognized the achievement gap as “the biggest challenge facing the district.”

Superintendent Paul Goren said he welcomed “an open dialog on achievement” and added: “We are here to listen, to learn, and to act.”


Most of the audience was already aware of results released last week by the Illinois State Board of Education of testing last spring by the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) that indicated that some 49 percent of District 65 students scored as proficient in English, but 70 percent of the white students were rated proficient, compared with only 20 percent of the black students.

And in math, 48 percent of the district’s students were rated proficient, but that included 71 percent of the white students and only 16 percent of the black students.

The state average for all students was 38 percent in English and 28 percent in math.

So while the white students beat the state averages by wide margins, the black students fell short on both tests.

So what did the black parents suggest? Without saying so explicitly, many of them questioned the wisdom of busing black students to schools in predominantly white residential areas, as they felt that black students learn better when taught by black teachers.

“It is important to have male black teachers in the classroom,” declared a male 1991 graduate of Evanston Township High School.

A former black teacher at Haven Middle School asserted that many white teachers do not know how to teach black students.

And a mother of a student at Willard Elementary School noted that her daughter was the only black student in the Two Way Immersion program designed to help Hispanic and native English students learn the language spoken by the other group.

A parent at Lincolnwood Elementary School and Haven Middle School complained that the district “tried to label my student as having a  learning disability” that she contended he did not have.

She added that black parents need to become more involved with their children’s schools.

A mother of three and grandmother of seven complained that the school system “set my children up to fail.”

A black minister who came to Evanston recently from Detroit said he considers the gap to be a structural problem. “We need to make a commitment that we will do whatever it takes to bridge this gap,” he declared, and acknowledged that the black community bears a responsibility to bring kids to the district “that are ready to succeed.”

Following the public comments, Superintendent Goren said that he and the board are committed to working  with the parents, and added: “You’ve been encouraging us to think about a cultural change in this community.”

But board member Candance Chow warned that change will not come overnight. “We can’t be looking for some magic bullet that doesn’t exist,” she said.

Related story:

D65 girds for stormy board meeting

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

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  1. Inconsistent ?
    The parents comments raise some questions.
    On the one hand white teachers are not suppose to be able to teach black students, but all teachers are suppose to be able to teach a subject to all levels of students, i.e. no classes by “tiers”, one level of algebra with teachers being able to teach students at any level in the one class room.

    While “affirmative action” is a term used about colleges, people are upset about comments about maybe blacks can’t “cut it” at majority white schools, yet here parents want either schools dedicated to black students or re-organized so each school has a representative racial [ethnic?] mix despite demographics in the area and apparently without busing given arguments over that in past years.

    1. Inconsistent, what exactly

      Inconsistent, what exactly is your point? That different parents are not entitled to have different points of view?

      If you think the disparity is disturbing then the question is how do we best address it. It's fair to examine whether our District's structure contributes to the problems.

      I'm the father of a District 65 4th grader and my wife and I have been thrilled with the experience over the last 5 years and we are black. We don't know how our child scored on the standardized test in question but we know he is doing well.

      It's important to note that our child is not bused and busing seems to attach a negative stigma.

      Teachers' expectations for a child's performance are impactful. To achieve, you must believe and teachers can help to shape that belief.

      At one point my wife and I felt that one teacher's expectations for our child's academic performance were too low.

      So, flippingly dismissing parents' concerns regarding their children's teachers influence on the child's performance wouldn't be constructive towards improving the performance of black students. Which is the responsibility of both the parents and school.

    2. Inconsistent?

      I taught in a District 65 Middle School for 22 years and whether people want to admit or not, there are many white teachers who don't have a clue about how to teach African American chlidren. Their lack of knowledge, in most cases, is not due to racial predjudice; they simply don't understand the culture of African Americans as well as they know their own culture. On the other hand, many African American teachers have an understanding of both African American culture and White culture. Many of us, while immersed in our own culture, had to learn how to navigate White culture in order to gain any success.

       As for having  African American teachers teaching all African American classes…this may be a recourse that District 65 may want to give a try. Unfortunately, after going through the experience of trying to develop an African American Centered program years back and witnessing the watered down version that is currently being used, I doubt that the intent of having some African American classes taught by African American teachers will ever be implemented the way it should be done.  As with back then, White parents will loudly protest the establishment of such a program that will not include their children.  As with back then, we will also hear complaints of segregated schools and the like.  

      I am substitute teacher now, and I am in different schools everyday. I see how African American children are being loss in the process of being educated. It would take too long to go into the specifics that I have observed, but I will write that African American children are falling behind in a system that still basically caters to White parents and their children. It has been like this since I started teaching in this system back in the seventies and has not changed much. To make matters worse, too many African American parents are failing to come to the aid of their children in a school system that is not meeting their children's needs..

      African American children, Latino children, White children and children from other cultures have cultural differences that can either help or impair their education in a school system that caters to one group more than another.  The District 65 Board needs to take their blinders off and implement programs that will help all children who enter our schools. Different and unique thinking that may go against the status quo will cause problems, but it is sorely needed. Parents should be fighting for the proper education of  ALL children and not just their own. Children do not come to a teacher's classroom on equal footing and plans need to be in place from kindergarten and on to deal with unequal footing.  Right now, there should be planning to help every child who is on unequal footing with their peers to have something in place that will help them.  Piling students into a teacher's classroom every year with wide expanses of knowlege and abilities seriously limits what a teacher can do. I know there are "pull-out" programs in elementary school, but how benefical are they? For the most part, such programs are for "special needs" students.  After seeing my share of students, as a substitue teacher, who are freshly from another culture, country, speaking NO English and receiving no help, I have to wonder how they will fare in District 65; how are they being served, etc. By the way, these students are in no "pull-out"programs. We live in a community that espouses equal and fair education for all, but does it….really?

      1. What are the cultural

        What are the cultural differences that prevent white teachers from effectively teaching african american students?  Asian students also have cultural differences relative to their white counterparts – why then are white teachers able to effectively teach asian students but not african american students?  Also, when you say that the school is not meeting the needs of african american students what do you mean by that?  If what those needs are can be defined, then means can be found to meet them. If you cannot define what the shortcomings are then it is perhaps unfair to blame the schools. Finally, the argument not to bus seems to be completely counter to the arguement for the new freshman curriculum at ETHS. With freshman humanitities and biology, the arguement was that the way to improve the performance of african american students is to make sure they are in classrooms with white students who are acheiving on a higher level. How does that mesh with the argument that african american students in district 65 will achieve better if they are in a school with mostly african american students who are also currently struggling?  

      2. How many real African-American ?
        We keep hearing white [Asian?, Hispanic ?] teachers can’t teach African-American children.
        How many African-American does the system really have? That should mean first or second generation from Africa, not 200,300 or more years ago. They may have an African heritage but probably a genealogy that includes other races and ethnic groups.
        If someone wants to ignore “where they are now”—American shaped by many groups, then they live in a another world and will continue to suffer from refusing to adjust just like someone who takes a job and fails to abide by the culture of the firm.
        Try to add to America by showing African culture. Fine, just like Polish, French, Jewish heritage has but hitting your head against a wall hurts you not the wall.
        I guess the argument black parents are making is that there is something genetically different, just like some blame lack of math ability in women on genes or “wiring”—none of which is true.

  2. Achievement Gap revisited again

    After attending last night's D65 board meeting I am hopeful that progress can and will be made in reducing the Achievement Gap in Evanston. The mostly black parent and community members who spoke last night aired their frustration, and also recognized the role that they and others have in their child's education. As Candance Chow stated, their are no magic bullets. Education is complicated and difficult. The achievement gap is a complex and nationwide issue. If there were any easy answers, we wouldn't be having the discussion last night. But with a new and committed D65 Administration, a new community effort, Cradle to Career, and new and committed parents and community members taking action, there is hope that progress will occur.

    However, it will take time and it will require difficult conversations and a lot of hard work to educate all children in Evanston to their potential. Anyone looking for easy answers and easy solutions will be disappointed. There is no pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. People willing to acknowledge and address the underlying issues of the achievement gap have an opportunity to reshape and improve education in Evanston to the benefit of our entire community.

    We can only hope and pray that the discussion last night continues in a constructive manner and results in tangible benefits.

  3. More blame on other people.

    More blame on other people. When does it stop. A teacher can not force a student to do his or her homework or force the parents to enforce rules in their own households. Time in time again success in school and in life period has always had a direct correlation to the individuals family life. So maybe stop blaming others for one second and take a look at yourselves first. 

    1. I agree

      I agree with Ududhkaj.  I grew up in a small town with parents that had just emigrated from another country and were not able to help me with my English homework or history projects or even math for the most part.  But what they did teach me was that I had to work hard for everything and that life is not easy and that we control our own destiny.

      I have 3 kids in Evanston schools and we have had African American, Asian, Hispanic and white teachers.  Yes, they have had good years and bad years with them but never did I blame race as the reason.

      My thought process has always been that the family is primarily responsible for what a child learns and school just assists in this process.  When my son got a D on his English paper at Eths this quarter, I did not blame the teacher for failing him.  I blamed him for not working hard enough on the paper.

      There are many avenues to get help – talk to the teacher before school, after school, by email.  There are athletic study tables and study sessions on Saturdays even!  I agree district 65 can do and must  do things to improve the achievement gap and help low achieving students but it will never replace what gets done at home. 

    2. Teachers, Schools or somewhere else ?

      It is common to blame "the man behind the tree"—here teachers and schools—and certainly if there is something wrong that can be identified as a "real" cause, fix it.  But most of the time it is excuses.

      I'm puzzled when the test scores come out that Hispanics seem to score higher than blacks.  This despite all the talk about needing two-way immersion because Hispanics do/may fall behind in English language skills—why then higher scores ?  Asian student population is not broken out so we [public] don't know how many Asian students have to have English tutoring or how they score on tests—with a wider variety of native languages this should have been an even larger problem.  There is no such thing as African, Hispanic, Russian, Polish [actually there is reverse Polish notation that H-P used but I don't think that counts]—-and yes they may learn their "times" tables in another language and even do [in their head] in the first country they lived in, high school math in where they lived later and calculus in English, but math has developed from Babylon, Egypt, India, Muslim countries, Europe and America—always improving not being seen as "different" once improved on.

      Where then is the problem(s).  Is Hispanic wealth greater than the black families ? Are the parents better educated, enforce discipline including time for homework, a different cultural/ethical base ?  

      Should those who complain about the schools look to sociologists and social workers working with parents and groups within the community to fix problems rather than blaming the race of the teachers and devising new programs [____centric classes] that try to "fix" the wrong problems ?

      I'd suggest some of these complainers rent the movie "Stand and Deliever" about Jaime Escalante and a ghetto school to see what a great teacher can do, or read about how Philip Treisman when teaching at U.Cal Berkeley took the calculus class where black students were failing [to get to Berkeley they had to be smart already] and made the class TOUGHER [they HAD to work/study together like the Asian students did]. The black student passed and it became the most sought calculus class. 

  4. Can’t agree with the argument — let’s look at relevant data

    One former teacher asserted that many white teachers don't know how to teach black students.  Is the converse also being argued — that many black teachers don't know how to teach white students? 

    If so, then why have my children thrived under the teaching of the broad range of teachers that they have had (white, black, Asian, Hispanic, more experienced, right out of school, male, female, etc.) while attending District 65 for a combined 27 years?  If most teachers are only proficient at teaching children of their racial group, it appears that integrated schools with integrated student bodies and integrated teaching staffs are misguided and destined to fail?

    So has District 65 studied whether black students have a better educational outcome (for example, reading at grade level by 5th grade) if they are taught exclusively by black teachers?  Take a look at the Afrocentric Curriculum program at Oakton School.  Every teacher in that program is black and the program has been running for at least eight years now so there are several cohorts that have spent at least five years in that program.  What are those results in math and reading?  As I recall from past years, the test scores for those cohorts were absolutely no better than students in the general education curriculum.

    No.  I cannot agree with the argument that most white teachers don't know how to teach black students because the evidence does not support it.  We must be digging deeper for answers to the achievement gap. 


  5. Is there an Evanston Historian in the house?

    If my memory serves me correctly, prior to 1967 Evanston schools were segregated by neighborhoods. After District 65 voluntarily decided to desegregate the schools, it closed the Foster School, which had a majority enrollment of Black children, and bused them to other schools in the district. Was there an achievement gap prior to 1967, as there is now?

  6. “Afrocentric” based curricula?

    My family relocated 5 times during school, and I found grade and high school difficult.  Did my parents complain that the system was unfair?  No.  My parents complained to me that I was not trying hard enough!

    I was held back a grade because the teachers thought I had a learning disability.  Did my parents complain that the system was unfair?  No.  The doctors said the teachers were actually correct!  What did the doctor’s say could be done?  Only that I would have to try even harder!

    I am "Hispanic".  My "White" primary education and secondary education, which was as "White" as it gets, failed to prepare me for the "White" college that accepted me.  Did I (or my parents) go and complain that the system was unfair?  No, I wasn’t trying hard enough!

    I made it out of college, but 66% of the students who also declared my major did not.  Do you honestly think they (or their parents) complained that the system was unfair?  No!  They knew they didn’t try hard enough!

    My “Asian” wife, who does not have a learning disability and whose “Asian” schools were much more difficult, still found “White” college difficult.  Did she go and complain that the system was unfair?  Did she think “Asian” college would have been a better fit?  No!  She thinks it would have been harder!

    And that “Asian” school my “Asian” wife went to, you want to know what it did to the students who weren’t cutting it?  It kicked them out!  Not worth the tax dollars!

    You may complain now, and your complaints may succeed now, but once you get into the real world you are not going to make it.  The world does not care about you.  The world never will. It is for you to care about the world and find your own way, just like you need to be learning, in school, how to do now.

  7. Achievement Gap will continue because…
    The Achievement Gap will continue to exist in Evanston for decades into the future because Community & Educational leaders aren’t willing to address the real underlying causes for the Achievement Gap:

    1. There is a “School Readiness Gap” – only 54% of students entering Kindergarten in D65 are deemed “Ready”
    2. There is a “Word Gap” – By age 4 some kids have heard 30 million fewer words than others (look at the TMW Initiative)
    3. There is a parental education gap – research has shown that educational achievement is highly correlated to the mother’s level of education
    4. There is an income and wealth gap in Evanston
    5. There is a “Homework Gap” – some students do their homework and others don’t
    6. There is a “Teacher Quality Gap” – while there are many outstanding teachers in Evanston, there are others who shouldn’t be teaching in the classrooms and other teachers know those teachers, administrators know those teachers, parents know those teachers, and most importantly the students know those teachers, but union restrictions and administrative reluctance enable those teachers to stay in the classrooms – teaching a broad range of students requires extra commitment and outstanding teaching abilities and our community fully appreciates those amazing teachers

    I’m sure there are other issues to address, but unless and until we understand and are willing to focus on issues that can truly impact the academic education for students, we’ll be talking about the Achievement Gap forever.

    1. Achievment gap

      Hi "D65 and D202 Parent":  If your analysis is correct I am starting to wonder if this is a solvable problem.  The first four "gap" items you mention (Readiness Gap, Word Gap, parent education gap, and income gap) are all outside the control of the school system.  The fifth item (Homework gap) is only partially under control of the school system.  The parents have to be involved.  The sixth item (some poor quality teachers) is the total responsibilty of the school system and should be addressed.  However this is only one item in the six you list.  So what's the solution? 

      1. One specific idea re: Achievement Gap

        The Reach Out & Read program at Erie Family Health Center needs children's books especially for ages Zero to Three years old. When children and their caregivers come to Erie for their Doctor appointment, the Pediatricians discuss the importance of reading and talking with their young children, starting at birth, and give the families books to read. BUT the pediatricians need books to give to their patients. Support early childhood literacy and help to prevent the achievement gap BEFORE kindergarten starts. Give children's books and/or money to Erie to support this program.

        There has been extensive academic and medical research on brain development and more and more people are realizing the critical importance of the Birth to 5 age period. However, limited resources are dedicated for this age demographic, especially for "at risk children."  Think about this; as a community we spend almost $25,000/year per student at ETHS, at D65 we spend about $15,000/year per student from Kindergarten through 8th grade BUT from Zero to age 5, how much money are we spending each year per child, especially for "at risk children" who need additional support ? Not enough.

        Holiday gift giving idea ; donate children's books and money to the Reach Out & Read program at Erie Family Health Center in Evanston. (when i get specific information for giving books and money, i'll post the information)

        1. Another idea re: Achievement Gap

          The Evanston Library is hosting a program for babies ages, ZERO to THREE called Winter Words

          Winter Words: Reading & Talking (0-3)

          January 2nd – 31st,  Main Library, North Branch, and Chicago Avenue/Main Street Branch locations

          Register your infant, 1, 2, or 3 year old for Winter Words, our reading and talking program for Evanston Public Library's youngest patrons. Come get a log to track your reading & talking with your child; then, read together for 14 days in January, and get a brand new board book to keep!

          Open to all of Evanston's children age 3 and under.Registration starts January 2. Fun infant activities available at all 3 locations (Main, North and CAMS)  during the month of January. Come in and see!

           Reading Aloud:

          increases the bond between parent and child which is essential for learning;
          introduces concepts like numbers, letters, colors, shapes
          builds listening, memory and vocabulary skills;
          gives babies information about the world around them. 

          Read to your little one today!

          1. Solutions begin in the home

            I agree with the commentaries regarding home environment aiding in instilling hard work, love, and values in children. As a former teacher, I can tell you that the first 5 years of a child's life are the critical ones: they learn about EVERYTHING:..they learn to love and respect others…they learn about hard work and success from their parents, etc…… Too many families are broken…the caring isn't there….the moral values are missing…kids are left on their own…..parents sometimes don't even care too much about them, and many parents think that when their kids are in school, it's up to the teachers to be their "parents"… need the love and support from their immediate families, and many don't have that. They also don't learn about life's consequences, and choices, and goals….. It's a shame…..there needs to be stability and values in the home, in order for that to spread out into the real world.

    2. Principal’s Goals

      The D65 Strategic Plan states: Principal Goals – all of our principals have specific outcome goals that address student achievement and achievement gaps. Perhaps it would be useful for the community to know more about those goals and the specific strategies and tactics employed to meet (or not) the goals. The administration points to the importance of the strategic plan in its work but specifics are lacking.

      1. Agreed and let’s get more data

        Yes, let's hear more (how about anything?) about the principals' goals. 

        There is a lot of data at D65's fingertips. For example, for each kindergarten through 4th grade teacher, what percentage of their students who graduate from fifth grade are reading at grade level?  This data should also include what percentage of those students met the criteria as low income, as well as the racial group with which the child's parent/guardian identified the child to D65. 

        And the teacher does not need to be identified by name.  Instead, use years of experience teaching and the racial group with which the teacher has identified himself/herself to D65.

        Same question for math: for each kindergarten through 4th grade teacher, what percentage of their students who graduate from fifth grade are working at grade level in math?  This data should also include what percentage of those students met the criteria as low income, as well as the racial group with which the child's parent/guardian identified the child to D65.

        With this data, the public would have more information to assess the argument that black teachers need to be teaching black students in order for black students to have a better educational outcome.  D65 would then be able to determine why some teachers have a history of students performing at grade level as those students continue with their education and why other teachers don't.

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