Outlines Strategies to Close Learning Gap
by Madeline Jerousek, Des Moines Register, March 13, 2004
For more articles like this
A high school
counselor once told Robert Smith he would have to work much
harder than his white peers to achieve the same things
throughout his life.
Smith, who is African American, took those words with him from a
low-income, one-parent home in Dallas, Texas, to college at the
University of Iowa. He carried the same message to the State
Board of Education on Friday.
"Why did I make the dean's list at the University of Iowa? Not
because people felt sorry for me, but because they pushed me and
made me feel like I could do it," he told board members meeting
in Des Moines Friday.
Smith, director of the University of Northern Iowa Center for
Urban Education, is co-chairman of a task force in the Waterloo
district charged with improving African-American student
achievement. The group has released a report proposing a series
of strategies to close the gap between black and white students
in the district.
Those strategies include putting more black teachers in schools,
increasing the numbers of experienced teachers in high-needs
schools, improving career education services and separating
high-risk black students into gender-based classrooms.
Black students in Waterloo score about half as well as white
peers on standardized tests and are more likely to drop out of
Beginning in the next school year, Waterloo will begin a $1.3
million pilot program in three schools with large minority
populations to raise black student achievement.
The schools - Longfellow Elementary School, Walter Cunningham
School for Excellence and Logan Middle School - have the highest
populations of black students in the district. African-American
students make up 20 percent of students in the Waterloo district
The task force was formed last year after Gov. Tom Vilsack
ordered school and community leaders in Waterloo and Sioux City
to develop strategies to close black student achievement gaps.
Sioux City's proposals will be released next month. Vilsack has
proposed $550,000 in his budget next year for the Waterloo
Other highlights from the Waterloo plan included:
* Establishing a plan to reduce the number of times students
change schools. Some students in the district change schools
several times during the school year as their parents try to
find work. The district proposes a plan to bus students to the
same school. The plan is expected to cost $30,000
* Improving preschool programs at an estimated cost of $40,000.
District Superintendent Dewitt Jones said students who enter
kindergarten not knowing numbers or colors lag behind their
peers before first grade.
* Spending $150,000 to recruit more black teachers and staff.
Fewer than 5 percent of teachers in the district are minorities.
* Increasing the number of mentors across the district from 250
to 1,000 and focusing on students' transition from eighth to
ninth grade at a cost of about $100,000.
The district will report achievement data to the State Board of
Education twice a year, in February and July. The district hopes
to begin to see test score improvement in three to five years.
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