The achievement gap between whites and non-whites at Evanston/Skokie School District 65 was top of mind at the last School Board meeting of the year. 

Superintendent Paul Goren reflected on the district’s efforts on racial equity Monday night. He said the district has been focusing on this for almost two years, and progress is being made.

“How do we give opportunities for all children and especially our children of color to succeed at the highest level here in the district?  We’re focused on changing the racial predictability of performance,” Goren said.

Part of the solution, he says, is hiring more black educators. In the past three years, out of 8 principals hired, 6 are Black and 15 percent of new teacher hires this year are black, compared to just 5 percent two years ago.

He acknowledged there is much work still to do. 

Terri Shepard.

Terri Shepard, a long time critic of the district’s efforts at providing an equitable education for African American students, spoke out at the meeting. 

“The lack of African American achievement, it’s hurtful to have to address the board over and over and over again, year after year,” Shepard said, added she is hopeful that after twenty plus years that something is truly going to get done.

The non-profit Foundation 65, which supports literacy and art projects in the district, reported that a $230,000 grant supporting a three-year program that focuses on K-3 literacy skills called REACH (Roots of Evanston Achievement) is showing some early success.

Lise Jinno and Diane Lequar

Foundation 65 Executive Director Lise Jinno and Board President Diane Lequar say already in the first year progress has been made. They report more kindergarteners and first grade students have met the pre-literacy benchmarks this year. Kindergarten readiness among black students rose from 64.1 percent to 75.9 percent.

They praised the efforts of more than 20 volunteers and educators who are working together to improve pre-literacy skills.

The District’s winter break begins Friday. Schools will be closed until Jan. 8.

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  1. Is it Racial or Socioeconomic predictability of achievement?

    This distinction is critical to understand because the solutions to address the underlying issues are different if academic underperformance is caused by race or socioeconomics. In Evanston there is a correlation between race and socioeconomics so the 2 issues at times can be comingled and many times they are used in this matter to advance political instead of educational agendas.

    Finally, sound and appropriate educational policies are being implemented for the under resourced Zero to 5 age group. The Family Action Network (FAN) has hosted outstanding speakers including Dr. Dana Suskind who directs the Thirty Million Word program and highlights the critical importance of literacy and exposure to words and language for babies. Erie Family Health also sponsors a 
    “Reach Out & Read” program where pediatricians stress the importance of reading with, and talking with babies, starting at birth. FAN also hosted Sean Reardon who demonstrated that in Evanston by 3rd grade there was almost a 2 year gap between black and white students. Even though Professor Reardon showed that black students and white students continued to learn at similar rates, the lower starting point for black students couldn’t be overcome, and hence the stark achievement gap reported in 8th grade. By the way, Professor Reardon also reported that black students in Evanston on average achieve at higher levels than black students throughout our country.

    So in Evanston is it racism or socioeconomics or other factors at play for the persistent and intractable achievement gap?

    Some people believe demographics are destiny. In Evanston 1/3 of adult residents have a 4 year college degree and other graduate degrees (doctors, lawyers, PhDs, MBA’s, Masters etc), another 1/3 of adults just have a 4 year college degree, and for another 1/3, about 10% have attended community college or have an associates degree, 10% just have a high school diploma and another 10% haven’t graduated from high school. This means that in Evanston 66% of adults have a 4 year college degree or higher, and that is 2 times the national average.

    Educational attainment in the United States and Evanston is highly correlated with income and wealth and also race.

    Sadly, the tax bill that is likely to get implemented will likely accelerate the growing income and wealth inequality in the US and Evanston, and this will likely manifest itself in both D65 and D202.

    More opportunities for some kids and less for others unless the community intervenes.

    The question becomes, how will the boards and administrations of D65 & D202 interpret and address this challenge? And how will the Evanston community respond?


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