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Article of Interest - No Child Left Behind

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Bridges4Kids LogoCity Outlines Strategies to Close Learning Gap
by Madeline Jerousek, Des Moines Register, March 13, 2004
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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 high school.

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 overall.

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 program.

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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