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Closing Gaps: A Lesson From an Old Coach

If MCPS wants to close its high school black-white student achievement gaps, it should make all black students enroll in the IB program, with the intent of successfully earning the IB diploma.

 

“About the fact
that the black
is constantly held back
Like 50 tracks back in a relay race
and the white team’s ahead
so let’s keep up the pace”

 —"The Remedy," A Tribe Called Quest

 

Skip Grant was my middle school basketball coach. Here a brief write-about on Coach Grant. And here’s a link to my old school located in the Mt. Pleasant section of DC.

Later, in life, when I moved to the Shepherd Park section of DC, to my surprise, I discovered that Coach Grant was my neighbor—just two houses down on the same side of the street. At that time, he was at St. Albans, running the school’s athletics, including coaching cross country.

Frequently, Coach Grant and I would run together. I was never a great runner and not particularly fast, but at that time in my life, I was doing local road races—mostly 10K races—for fun. Still, I wanted to get faster and turn in better 10K times. And so, one day when running, I quizzed Coach Grant about how to get faster. I thought he would give me some really complex training program, but instead his advice was two words: “Train fast.” In short, you can’t really improve your real race times unless you practice running faster.

Did this advice work? Yes!

Frequently, I think of Coach Grant’s advice when folks ask me, “How do schools close the achievement gaps between their black and white students, their Latino and white students, and their poor and rich students?”

Now, I know it sounds simple, but to close gaps, schools must make the students who are behind (e.g., black students) run faster. And if they do not, then gaps remain. (Note:  I have highlighted make because it does come down to a requirement. There is no negotiating excellence and better outcomes.)

So, let me provide a real example of what I mean by running faster.

I do not believe I’ll get pushback on this, but at the high school level, I think we all could agree that students who participate fully in the International Baccalaureate Program are running faster than their peers not participating in the program. Fully here means the IB student is participating with the intent of earning the IB diploma. Readers can learn more about the IB diploma requirements here.

At this Montgomery County Public Schools website, readers can learn which of the county’s public high schools offer the IB program.

And so here is my simple Coach Grant lesson for MCPS and efforts to close, for example, the black-white achievement gap at the high school level. Make all the black students in the eight high schools that offer the IB program earn the IB diploma. Currently, the eight high schools with IB programs are: Bethesda Chevy-Chase, Einstein, Kennedy, Richard Montgomery, Rockville, Seneca Valley, Springbrook, and Watkins Mill.

Make all of the black students in these high schools run faster!

Currently, how fast are the black students in these eight schools running?  Not fast enough. In 2011, these eight high schools graduated 796 black seniors. Click here to view numbers (see Table B2). According to IB diploma information obtained from Dana Tofig, MCPS’s public information director, 40 black students from the Class of 2011, in the eight high schools offering the IB program, pursued an IB diploma (25 of 40 were awarded the IB diploma, meaning they passed all the required exams). So, a mere 5 percent (40 of 796 black graduates) ran faster. That is not even close to good enough.

Sorry folks, but Coach Grant would look at these results, shake his head, and ask, “Is MCPS serious about closing its achievement gaps?”

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Tim Fahey December 02, 2012 at 02:28 PM
The desire to run faster comes from you. The real question is "Are the parents and students serious about closing the gap its achievment gap" (using you analogy of running faster. The coach Grant idea and example inspired you. He didn't do the running for you. MCPS is the coach, the students are you).
Joseph Hawkins December 02, 2012 at 03:01 PM
Tim--I totally agree with you. And in the past, I have taken black parents and black students to task for not wanting to run faster. I have an entire chapter in a book about black achievement that makes exactly this point--black parents in this county are not stepping up.
Theresa Defino December 02, 2012 at 03:32 PM
The desire to complete an IB program is second to the need to take AP clesses for college credit. In this economy, that's what is happening and it isn't all bad. Joe, will you be at the BOE swearing in on Tuesday night? Perhaps folks will address the closed, excuse me, not closed achievement gap? Sad farewell to Laura Berthiaume for me! I was part of her two-person campaign team; can't beiieve her term is already up. Will miss her so.

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