Evanston schools are doing great things for the area’s kids, but one nagging challenge just won’t go away.

And that is the achievement gap between white students and African American students. It’s a problem that’s been around for decades, but nothing seems to work.

A massive amount of material has been reported in the local and national news media about the gap, but the most recent figures from the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) show that about half of the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 students score as proficient in English, but 70 percent of the white students achieve that benchmark, compared with only 20 percent of the black students.

In math, those numbers are 71 percent of white students and only 16 percent of black students—an even bigger gap.

Nevertheless, the superintendents of  District 65, which operates the elementary and middle schools, and Evanston Township High School District 202, which runs the high school, are not about to give up.

That was the essential message delivered Thursday night at the second annual State of the Schools report delivered by District 65 Superintendent Paul Goren and District 202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon.

The problem has been so pernicious over the years that the two districts have joined with the City of Evanston, Northwestern University, and dozens of community businesses and non-profit agencies to create the Cradle to Career initiative that is focusing on early childhood literacy as a way to get kids off to a decent start when they enter the school system at the age of 5.

School officials have complained for years that a large percentage of black students come to them in kindergarten already so far behind that they never catch up, and many eventually drop out before they graduate from high school.

At Thursday’s presentation, Superintendent Goren repeated a three-part strategy he had earlier addressed at his board’s meeting earlier in the week.

That strategy involves interventions for struggling students, improving the district and school climate, and engaging community partners.

ETHS Superintendent Witherspoon described efforts that so far have been successful in removing barriers for black students to enroll in Honors classes and to sign up for Advanced Placement classes in their later years.

The high school has also been proactive, he said, in reaching out to dropouts and bringing them back to the classroom, lured by an increasing number of classes and special services, including algebra for entrepreneurship, geometry in construction, advanced manufacturing labs, and automotive repair classes, among many others.

He acknowledges that not all students are going to enroll in competitive colleges, but at least the high school can prepare many of them for classes at Oakton Community College and elsewhere that will give them an edge up in qualifying for well-paying jobs.

The next step in the gap-closing strategy is a special agenda at the April 27 meeting of the District 65 board, which President Tracy Quattrocki described at Monday’s board meeting as a “summit” for gathering input from the community for additional steps the boards can take to address the issue.

In Superintendent Goren’s words: “We are poised to make a difference.”

Related story:

Black parents to board: Repair the gap

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...

Join the Conversation


  1. Gap White, Black and Hispanic
    Perhaps some insight would be gained from why the gap between white and hispanics is smaller than between white and black. Supposedly hispanics should have lower English test scores given that two-way immersion has been seen as a problem for non or limited English speaking students. Do the experts have an explanation ? e.g. family structure, lower poverty rate, parents putting more emphasis on studies ?
    Until the gap can be erased perhaps get rid of distractions like league [inter-murals] sports while keeping or increasing Physical Ed. course which benefit all students.

  2. Has the wheel already been invented?
    Is there a school district in our nation, that mirrors Evanston in demographic statistics, that has closed the achievement gap? We seem to know what causes the gap, but has any school district found a solution to the problem? Wouldn’t this issue be consistently addressed in educational periodicals that our top district educators would be reading?

    1. Do we really know what causes the gap?

      I have yet to hear a thorough discussion and understanding of what are the fundamental and underlying causes of the achievement gap. Have either D65 or D202 published an analysis or conducted research about the causes of the gap? If so, please share it with the public. The achievement gap is a complex and long standing issue in Evanston, and across our country. As "I a person" asks, "has any school district found a solution to the problem?" If so, please share it with the public. I would suggest that until and unless both D65 and D202 fully recognize and understand the causes of the achievement gap, that the many programs and money being spent on reducing the gap will not be as effective or helpful to the students who really need the help. Instead of politicizing this issue, maybe sound and proven educational policies will be implemented to address this important issue.

      1. Where is the real problem ? Blame on wrong things ?
        Again we hear of un-equal test [and I assume other measures] for minority students with school and civic officials cry of ‘woe is us.’ Instead of fixing the situation. Evanston is not like an impoverished area/school of Chicago [many of which still can provide good education]. Maybe we should start looking at the leadership of the schools [Board, Administration down to the myriad of Principals], and teachers. Are they really the best, brightest and well trained or do they like residents just find it easier to make excuses ?
        I point out two examples of great teachers.
        In the movie ‘Stand and Deliver’ about Jaime Escalante who taught calculus to poor minority students in an area much worse than Evanston—and the students did so well on state exams they were accused of cheating. As often happens, the school thought they could ‘copy/improve’ on what he did—and the schools success dropped and he was forced out.
        Uri Treisman taught math at U. California Berkeley where he found a total disproportion of black students were failing calculus. Instead of just accepting it as ‘way it is’ or ‘they are not prepared/able or discriminated against’, he found out why and took action. Black students studied alone in contrast to Asian students studied in groups and quizzed each other. He made the course so hard that black students had to work together. Result, they not only passed but the course became the one ALL students wanted to take because they learned more.
        Are Evanston teachers as creative ? Other issues in Evanston, schools and education, yes. But many of the proposed solutions are dumbing down classes, ‘ethnic/language this, ethnic/language that classes’, effectively buying into students being “just not being bright enough” and all the other excuses.
        Time to start looking at the problem from the top down—and fix it.

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published.