Closing the education gap

by Bob Norris

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recent article in the Daily Camera, the biannual Trends Report published by the Community Foundation of Boulder County, and the 2013 report by the Latino Task Force all point to the fact that, in Boulder County, there continues to be an education achievement gap between white students and minority students. These reports have also shown that achievement gaps closely reflect the differences between students receiving free and reduced lunches and those not eligible for that type of assistance.

A smaller percentage of minority students attend college than white students. The Colorado Department of Higher Education set a goal to close the gap by 2025 and to raise attainment to 66 percent for Hispanics, Native Americans and African Americans.

Both the Boulder Valley and St. Vrain Valley School District (BVSD and SVVSD) have worked hard to close the achievement gap. For example, SVVSD has been offering full-day kindergarten.

There are several reasons why the achievement gap exists in the first place, and it will continue to be difficult to eliminate this unfortunate condition that not only harms students and their families but all of us — an educated population benefits society as a whole, as well as, businesses and our economy.

Poverty plays a crucial role as parents working two or more jobs have less time to support their children’s learning, and inability to provide adequate housing and nutrition are well documented to reduce the ability of children to perform well in school.

Racism and white privilege also play a part that we have hoped would diminish. Learning requires self-confidence that is hard to come by when you are frequently harassed because of the color of your skin or other factors.

There are too few teachers of color and even fewer people of color in administrative roles. This discourages young student from seeing a path forward for themselves.

Adequate financial resources for education from preschool through college are a significant problem in Colorado. Often school resources, including teacher pay, are less in areas where significant percentages of families live below the poverty level. These are areas that need more resources not less.  With the complex mixture of state constitutional amendments, especially TABOR, it is hard to see these conditions being resolved any time soon.

Fortunately, there are several non-profits that continue to contribute to reducing the achievement and college attendance gaps. Some help students to continue on to post-secondary education, give hope to younger students and often produce community leaders.  One such organization is the Hispanic Education Foundation (HEF), a board I served on. HEF has been awarding scholarships available to any graduate of the St. Vrain Valley School District since 1989. In total about $500,000 has been provided to award approximately 600 scholarships.

As mentioned above, low family income has been a barrier to reducing the achievement gap and thus it has been HEF’s practice to select students first on the basis of needs but also on a number of other criteria. Go to heflongmont.com

Another example is the Northern Colorado Immigrants United (formerly the Northern Colorado Dreamers United). This non-profit is unique in that it has raised money to provide scholarships for its own members. In five years it has raised $27,000 to support mostly DACA recipients as they attend college, work and provide community service.

The Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition (CSPC) trains home day care providers to prepare children in their care to be ready for kindergarten and first grade as documented by an independent study. Low-income families depend on home day care facilities because they cannot begin to afford more formal day care. CSPC will provide this training in Longmont beginning in fall 2018. CSPC is currently providing Parent Leadership Training at seven Title I elementary schools in Longmont. This program brings teachers and parents together to improve communication and education results. Go to coparentcoalition.org.

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.

Bob Norris has been a Longmont resident since 2000 and served on the board of the Hispanic Education Foundation.

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