Hundreds of Evanston students—from preschool through high school—will be walking, riding, and biking to the area’s public schools this morning as the 2017-2018 school year officially begins, and both district superintendents have vowed to emphasize equity in this diversified community.

“There is a shared commitment between our administration, teachers’ union, and school board to work collaboratively to further our commitment to equity learning opportunities, and culturally relevant teaching while prioritizing work on early literacy and improving school climate,” declared Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Superintendent Paul Goren.

Those sentiments were echoed by Evanston Township High School Superintendent Eric Witherspoon, who noted that many elements of the community are mobilizing to do something about what he called an “imbalance” in the community’s social system.

“Beth Emet Synagogue, Second Baptist Church, St. Nicholas Roman Catholic Church, Unitarian Church of Evanston, and others in our faith community are providing leadership to address equity,” he said.

Witherspoon cited the two school districts and the City of Evanston as leading the equity work, but noted that a number of the community’s nonprofit organizations are a critical component of the effort.

“YWCA Evanston/North Shore, McGaw YMCA, Y.O.U., Y.J.C., Moran Center for Youth Advocacy, Evanston Community Foundation, and so many other organizations are investing in equity work,” Witherspoon said.

While ETHS has made “significant progress” in addressing equity issues in recent years, he said, “this year we are taking our work even deeper,” focusing on what he calls “systemic inequalities” facing black male students.

“We are underscoring and confronting the disparities in academic outcomes for black male students,” he declared. “While we have many high-achieving black males who are accelerated honors students at ETHS, the aggregated data for black males has to be our biggest concern.”

The high school superintendent asserted that “as a community, we must collectively confront how a racist society has resulted in black males in America disproportionately having lower incomes, higher dropout rates, lower college graduation rates, high unemployment, shorter life expectancy, higher incarceration, and greater risk of being victims of violence.”

Taking a hopeful look at the school year ahead, Witherspoon said, “we can achieve equity together in Evanston. If not here, then where? If not now, then when?”

His optimism was echoed by Superintendent Goren, who said, “if we all work together, I am confident we can make this the best school year yet.”

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. What explains the difference?

    I am pleased to see that Dr. Witherspoon is focused on black males at ETHS this year.

    He states, “While we have many high-achieving black males who are accelerated honors students at ETHS, the aggregated data for black males has to be our biggest concern.”

    So why does ETHS have “many high-achieving black males” yet many other black males are underperforming academically? What explains this difference? If racism is the underlying issue as Dr. Witherspoon suggests, then are some black males experiencing racism, but others aren’t? Or are there other factors that impact educational outcomes?

    Until and unless ETHS leadership is able to answer these questions, they won’t be able to create programs and provide the appropriate supports and interventions to enable all black males to reach their potential. 

    Our community wants all kids to succeed, that’s why most people choose to live in Evanston.

  2. Why is everything about race?

    What are the systematic inequalities that black males face at the high school? It is true black males isrpoportionately have lower incomes, higher dropout rates, lower college graduation rates, high unemployment, shorter life expectancy, higher incarceration, and a greater risk of being victims of violence. Most of these problems result from poor decisions. No one is forcing black males to drop out of high school or commit a crime. These decisions lead to lower income, lower graduation rates, higher unemployment rates and a higher risk of being a victim of crime. Are we to believe black males disproportionately make poor decisions because our society is racist? 

    It is true that 65 percent of all black babies are born out of wedlock and many of them to single mothers. And studies show there is a direct corelation between poverty and single parents regardless of race. And there’s a direct corelation between poverty and crime regardless of race.

    Notice how all of our school and city leaders in the midst of their righteous chest-beating talk of racial equity, our racist society, white privilege and so on never ever dare mention what the stats are involving black students and single parents. What is the ratio of black students living in single parent household vs white students in single parent households in Evanston? And how does it match up with test scores? Did I miss this discussion? These are questions Witherspoon and Goren should be asking with intensity. But apparently they don’t. Why?

    Instead, our wise school officials allow things like black stiudent summits, African-American Youth achievement awards and all kinds of other race based programs in our school that benefit students based on race. It is divisive and sends a message that students automatically need help  because they have a particular skin color. 

    These messages focus on race rather than individuality. It cripples the mind and poisons the soul. Once upon a time it was shameful for a man not to marry a woman he impregnates. In some places in America I think it still is but I wonder if it is in Evanston. If our leaders would only make it a habit to constantly speak out against men who shun their family responsibilities and speak out against gang and the gang culture the stats might improve. All we get is blame on the society and not the individual. There is a movement afoot in America that assigns no blame on the individual but blames society as a whole. Race is a cottage industry that cleverly divides us by feeding into our unfounded fears that there’s a racist under every bed.If you disagree, well, you’re a racist or simply in denial.. 

    America was built on individual merit – a can do attitude regardless of race. Now it is transforming into a can’t do attitude because everyone is not equal. The idea is to obtain equality and equity. That’s not an American construct. It is instead a pathway to communism. Our American system allowed enough freedom for people to make good decisions that benefited them and indirectly others. A rising tide lifts all boats.

    Now, we have so called activists who believe that goverment needs to step in and make things equal. That is, strip away some of our individual freedoms in the name of identity politics. If our society is indeed racist and there’s institutional racism in Evanston schools perhaps our leaders should explain in detail what and where it is and begin removing those responsible. It’s always good measure to start at the top.

    1. Can’t Ignore the Past

      “America was built on individual merit” – and also on the backs of people who were enslaved for 250 years and discriminated against for another 100+ years. We are only 50 years removed from the passage of the Civil Rights act. The idea that the effects of 350 years of oppression can suddenly vanish is a preposterous notion on which all of your arguments are based. This is the very foundation of implicit bias and the white privilege you scoff at.

      Reversing the effects of our country’s history is going to take a lot of hard work and time. I am glad we have leaders in Evanston who acknowledge this and are doing what they can to help.

      1. Hi Chad,

        Hi Chad,

        Can you explain to me why African Americans have done so much worse SINCE the Civil Rights Act has passed?

        In the 1940s and 1950s, marriage rates for blacks were higher than whites. Violent crime decreased substatially, before exploding in the late 1960s and 1970s. What changed?

        Why so so many other minority groups excel at education and career? Many minorities out earn white males (Indians, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamense, Nigerian, etc.)  How are these groups able to overcome that opressive “white privelage?”

        1. Comparisons to Hispanic students

          No one has explained why Hispanic student’s test scores are above those of blacks.

          Since the schools, city and larger groups say they need bi-lingual education, books in Spanish, advocates in schools, library and the city, why are even their reading scores higher ? The library and schools have socioligists—why the need for ethnic diversity staff for every imagined group—are  they not doing their job ?

      2. How did Obama get elected under the effects of oppression?


        Stop living in the past and stop making excuses. Every American alive today was born into freedom.  

        Millions of impoverished brown people with nothing on their backs and can’t speak the language sneak into America. There are tons of immigrants from Africa, many of whom are descendants of tribesman that earned wealth in the slave trade. There were even black slave owners in America.

        Most Americans alive today are NOT the descendants of slave owners. Millions of Americans today are descendants of immigrants who came here AFTER the Civil War, many of them with nothing on their backs. Before there was slavery in America there was indentured servitude and most were Europeans. The Irish in the 19th century were just as discriminated against as freed blacks if not more and they built the railroads.

        All kinds of people experience discrimination to some degree in the past and present and likely the future. The obese, handicap, homeless, dwarfs, etc. The effects of slavery has been reversed. It’s called freedom and people from all around the world risk their lives to come here for it.  And they’re not asking for handouts or demand equity. If immigrants today can make it in America then black Americans can as well. It’s called hard work, dedication, determination and committment.  

        If things are so bad for blacks and America is a racist society then how is it we twice elected a black president with a Muslim name? Seems to me 350 years of oppression has vanished and America is NOT a racist society but the most giving, caring and kind nation this world has ever known.

        Hey Chad, let’s make America great again. Shall we? 

        1. Born into Freedom?

          Every American alive today was born into freedom? In fact, Al, anyone over 50 was born into an America where blacks were told they were not good enough to use the same restaurants, bathrooms, public transportation, or schools as whites. But let’s take a different angle and accept your no excuses premise that the past has no impact, and that everyone today has equal opportunity. Poverty, below average academic performance, unemployment, life span, crime, and violence are based on poor decisions, you say. And the poor decisions made by black males which you cite are a result of… being black? You’re not making America great again, Al.

          1. Yes, born into freedom

            Gosh Chad, I didn’t know Jim Crow laws existed in Evanston 50 years ago.

            Betcha didn’t know that there were some blacks at the time who WANTED segregation. They’re still around such as the New Black Panthers who want their own black nation. You might have seen them recently in Charlottesville.

            Oh, but never mind me. I’m just being white. Right?

          2. Acknowledge the past.

            My wife moved to Evanston when she was 6 years old.  This would be about 1960.  When she went to enroll in the school nearest her house her parents were told that this school was for the “black kids”.  She ended up going to a school further away.

            It is important to acknowedge the past for what it was,

      3. Live in the past or reality

        No one denies a lot of groups were persecuted and put down in the past. ‘Remember’ but don’t live in it. Sure you don’t like the past treatment—and maybe some current. You can wallow with “woe is me” or figure out how to change for the future—education, job skills, adapt [yes maybe should not have ot but reality] if ‘white’ culture rules [and change it later]. Hitting your head against a brick wall only gives you a headach. 

    2. Hi Al:  You make some

      Hi Al:  You make some reasonable points. It would be interesting to hear some response from the other side.

       I wonder if some of the problem with “struggling students” is that they are simply not that interested in school.  I will use my own experience as an example.  I went to high school in Chicago in the 60’s.  In my senior year I was assigned to an honors English class.  I went to my teacher and told her that I didn’t want to work and wanted to be placed in regular English.  After some argument she relented and I was placed in regular English where I did minimumal work and learned virtually no English that year.  I also had a chemistry class but it met late in the day and the temptation to cut and leave early was overwhelming. I went two or three times and never went back.

      The problem I had is that I didn’t like school, I didn’t want to be there, and I didn’t want to do the work.  As a result of this the money that the Chicago Board of Education invested in me that year was totalling wasted.  So based on my own experience I wonder if the “stuggling” students have a similar problem and if they do want can be done, if anything, to help them overcome it.

      1. Factors to consider

        Dan, you raise an excellent point about motivation. Al brought up income. After watching my 4 kids grow up in Evanston, and observing their academic performance and the performance of their peers, I’d like to add a couple of more ideas for D65 and D202 Boards and Administrations to consider. In no particular order:

        – Educational attaintment of parents, especially the mother

        – Housing stability, Job stability, and Food stability – if you don’t have these 3, it’s difficult to learn

        – Family structure – one parent, two parent and no parent households make a difference

        – Health – physical and mental – access to quality healthcare is critical

        – Early childhood experiences – stress, trauma, and exposure to reading and literacy makes a difference 

        – English as a second language

        – attending school and switching schools frequently – consistency helps

        – Culture of learning at home – learning doesn’t have to start and stop in school

        – Quality and consistency of teachers

        – Supports at home and school with tutors and programs to advance learning

        This list isn’t meant to be fully inclusive, but it’s intended to spur dialogue and hopefully motivate more community members to get involved in their kids education, to encourage others to volunteer at any of the multiple organizations in Evanston. This list hopefully will also encourage more people to think deeper about the complexity of education and not get mired down by the negative rhetoric that divides our community. After all, it’s about all the kids in Evanston. Equity for equity’s sake rings hallow. Equity to advance political agendas rings hallow. And equity to spurn accountability and preserve one’s job rings hallow.

        — TP

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