Time for Change is Now – and 13 years later

Folks,

Steve Braunginn, former head of the Urban League of Greater Madison, has called on Madison to really take action to boost minority achievement. As an advocate for our schools, please read the recent Isthmus opinion article at:

http://www.isthmus.com/isthmus/article.php?article=22251

If you didn’t know it already – we’ve got some real problems here with performance and achievement disparities on the basis of race in Wisconsin. Latest data is that Wisconsin is dead last among the states in this gap! Another stain is that the state’s gap in incarceration is rotten, also.

So, Braunginn’s piece is not just another “let’s do nice” opinion article – it’s critically important. He’s ringing an alarm bell that our state and community really need to work together to fix this.

In Madison, we can sometimes inoculate the discussion of race behind the low-income bracket. Aggregate performance trends at schools are “explained” largely by low-income percentages, but there is also a solid correlation between the low-income percentage and the white population. I’ll bet that if your elementary school has 25% low-income percentage that the white population is about 75%, and if the low-income percentage is 65% low income, that the white population is about 35%. And, if you understand something about boundaries, you know that this means our neighborhoods and suburbs are segregated by income and race.

To me, such segregation means lost opportunities.

In a recent Wisconsin Academy of Arts and Sciences lecture, UW Professor Gloria Ladson-Billings said its probably best to consider the racial performance and achievement gap as a national debt. She notes that it’s bizarre, but generally accurate, to go through a list of high school courses and make a prediction whether there are black kids are in the class or not. The gap is really an integration over a range of effects and over time, but where we are now is simply unacceptable.

The fact is that we need these kids. They have a ton to contribute.

And, just like a national debt of something like $9 trillion, we need to think of the debt as the expenses our children will be paying if we don’t address it. Our nation should chip away at it every day, with thought, sweat, prayer, discussion, volunteering, cultural awareness, letters to the editor, charitable contributions, friendship, mentoring, high expectations, … all the normal work we’d be committed to raising our own children.

The only thing I would add to what Steven Braunginn has said is that the time for change is not now, but in a few years. We need to carry through the kindergarten student who will eventually be prepared to be a solid citizen in 13 years. It’s just that time for the work and investment is now. The real prize comes later.

I also believe this isn’t about where our hearts are. We don’t need to change our perceptions about the importance of working against racial disparities – we already know this in our hearts. For those who don’t, words are not likely to change their hearts. Examples will.

The work itself will be like fresh air – and people will immediately start to feel better – but we’ve got a long road ahead and keep a long-term view on this.

Jerry Eykholt

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