A group of parents has had enough of the growing performance gap between African-American students and everyone else in a school district in the San Francisco Bay Area and declares an “educational emergency” and demands improvement.
“For years, this neighborhood has not seen or served African-American / black children,” says Golddie Williams, whose daughter El Cerrito High visits West Contra Costa Unified. “That will all change tonight. There is no more time for consideration. Now is the time. It is time for them to see us. “
The parents, who are members of the district’s African American Site Advisory Team, presented their requirements on Wednesday evening during a meeting of the district school board. The board unanimously approved the resolution presented by the group and agreed to implement all its recommendations next year, which are expected to cost up to $ 7 million, by shifting the money currently spent by the district on student programs to services that African American students.
But chief inspector Matthew Duffy and associate chief inspector for business services Tony Wold warned that the Contra Costa County Office of Education could reject the district’s budget with this new commitment, because the district has not yet identified what it would save to free up the money for the new Services. The district is already struggling with the need to close a deficit of up to $ 48 million next year.
Wold said the county may require the district to increase its expected deficit to nearly $ 54 million to reflect planned spending related to the performance of African-American students. But Williams and more than a dozen other supporters of the African-American resolution said they didn’t want to wait two years to see them implemented.
“The district has stated that it is a priority to address educational disadvantages with African-American students,” Williams said. “This is necessary from a moral point of view. This is a crisis. “
She is co-chair of the group, who demanded that West Contra Costa Unified improve its services for African-American students in the district that includes Richmond and surrounding communities.
Data show that the performance gap between African-American students and others is growing in the district, where only about 20 percent of African-American students last year met or exceeded English standards for the entire state test and only 10 percent met mathematical standards. By contrast, about 61 percent of white students met English standards and half met maths standards.
In both subject areas, the performance of African-American students has fallen over the past five years, while the performance of white students has improved. In 2015, 21 percent of African-American students met or exceeded English standards compared to 57 percent of white students, and 11 percent of African-American students met or exceeded math standards compared to 48 percent of white students.
“If we don’t change the expectations of the students, teachers, administrators, parents – nothing changes,” Williams said. “The expectation must be that this is unacceptable.”
The parents’ group asked the district to allocate $ 7.2 million to improve services for the 5,000 African-American students in the district, including the establishment of an office in the district to support the students and their families . The parents also asked that the district invest in small group tutoring and mentoring for African-American students, and offer more culturally relevant curriculum, with a greater emphasis on African-American history and culture in books and other instructional materials, excursions and meetings. To do this, they advised the district to evaluate what works and what doesn’t and eliminate programs or services that are not effective, so that it can redirect that money to services that would have better results.
The meetings of the district-wide group attract about 40 to 50 people and include representatives from African American parent committees, said Zelon Harrison, who is also co-chair of the advisory team.
Due to tax constraints, Duffy and Wold originally presented the idea of waiting until 2022-23 to consider spending cuts of $ 7 million in some areas, so that it could reduce that money to finance the ideas of African-American parents. But board members unanimously rejected this idea and said they wanted the district to deliver on its promises immediately.
The plight of African-American students who remain behind with their colleagues throughout the state is also on Gov’s radar. Gavin Newsom. When he released his proposed budget 2020-21 last week, Newsom emphasized the fact that the performance gap for African-Americans and students with disabilities does not close the entire state.
“If your socio-economy overlaps with race, the scores are unfortunate as opposed to what they should be,” he said, this “bad news” as opposed to improvement by some other student groups. “We have to get serious and do something about it.”
The district group resolution also called for the need to recruit, support, and retain African American teachers. The United Teachers of Richmond trade union of the district also supported the resolution, along with the Richmond Branch of the NAACP and Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, who represent the Richmond area in the legislature.
“Every student has the ability to thrive, but they can only use their potential if we provide them with the tools and opportunities to do this,” Wicks said in a statement. “It has been a long time since we have tackled these systemic opportunities and performance gaps in West Contra Costa County, and I am proud to support this resolution to support the ability of each child to learn and reach.”
According to the current state funding formula, districts receive extra money for low-income students, foster youth, or English students. But the state has not reserved any extra money specifically intended for African-American students. Williams said her group calculated that 13.6 percent of low-income students and foster youths are in the African-American district, so they should take advantage of that share in the district that it receives.
The Newsom budget provided additional money for teacher preparation programs, along with around $ 300 million to support the state’s lowest-performing schools and districts. West Contra Costa is already redesigning such a school – Stege Elementary in San Pablo – which includes a high percentage of African-American students. The board has also designated this as a budget priority, despite spending cuts that must be implemented elsewhere.
Wold also said that legislation is being proposed that can specifically reserve money for African-American students. If that legislation is passed, he said that West Contra Costa could be well positioned to receive funding to help strive for better services to those students.
Editor’s Note: As a special project, EdSource is following this year’s developments in the Oakland Unified and West Contra Costa Unified School Districts as a way to illustrate some of the most pressing challenges for many urban districts in California. West Contra Costa Unified includes Richmond, El Cerrito and various other East Bay communities.