400 Years: Bridging the achievement gap in education

Education and struggle for equity highlighted nationally with focus on Shaker Heights Schools

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - 19 News continued our series "400 Years: The Vestiges of slavery in Cleveland" with a look at race and education.

Most teachers across the country don't match the changing face of the student population.

Diversity at the top in our classrooms has a big effect on how well African American students fare, from test scores to going to college.

It’s been 66 years since Brown v. Board of Education.

The landmark Supreme Court case ruled segregation in public schools was unconstitutional.

But decades later, our schools still have a far way to go to provide equal education for all students.

19 News went to Shaker Heights, a diverse community with a proud history of integration and acceptance, to see how schools are handling educational equity there.

Students foster better race relations

Tiara Sargeant graduated from Shaker Heights High School almost six years ago, but she'll never forget experiences in the classroom that shaped her views of race and inequality.

“When I was in elementary school, I was called an Oreo. When I was in high school, I was one of the only black students in my AP or IB classes,” she said.

Sargent enjoyed her time at Shaker Heights Schools, but she said they can do better.

“So being that student, I wanted to come back and support other minority students,” she said.

Sargeant is now an advisor the Student Group on Race Relations, known as SGORR.

SGORR was founded in 1983 by a group of concerned Shaker Heights High School students.

It “promotes positive social relations across all boundaries of difference,” and includes about 300 students of all backgrounds.

“So these students are able to take the conversations we're having to the dinner table and talk to their parents about that. And their parents might have a light bulb that goes off and they might do something in their community,” Sargeant said.

Students like Isaac Weiss meet every week and talk to students in 4th grade and up throughout the school year.

“I think what's opened my eyes the most is the way people can change. I think there's a stigma that everybody's pretty solid in their views,” Weiss said.

The achievement gap and how to overcome it is a focus of their discussion.

“So I think that when classes become racially segregated, honestly, I think that we lose that key part of diversity which is the integration,” Weiss said.

Isaac Weiss is graduating this year.

He wants to be a teacher who passes on what he learned from SGORR.

“I think for a teacher to be able to start the conversation, and to create a safe space, and to express to students that it's okay to have tough conversations,” he said.

Isaac Weiss is a student leader and Tiara Sargeant is an advisor for SGORR.
Isaac Weiss is a student leader and Tiara Sargeant is an advisor for SGORR. (Source: WOIO)

ProPublica found black and Hispanic students across the country are less likely to be in gifted programs and AP courses than white students.

ProPublica did a study called “Miseducation.” You can find out if there is racial inequality at your school here.

Some students need that extra push to succeed from their teachers, and studies show, many aren't getting it.

Just 20 percent of the nearly 4 million public school teachers across the country are teachers of color, compared to 51 percent of students.

Black students make up 15 percent of the population, but just seven percent of teachers.

Black principals are more likely to hire and retain black teachers.

But just 10 percent of public school principals are black.

So why does representation matter?

A recent report from the Learning Policy Institute found teachers of color help close achievement gaps and they’re positively perceived by students of all races.

Teachers of color boost test scores, improve graduation rates and encourage students of color to consider college at higher rates.

Sargeant said the five teachers of color she had at school are still a part of her life today.

“The education system was created by white educators. So what we are teaching our teachers might not fit every student, and especially minority students. So it's really taking it a step further and educating yourself on diversity inclusion and different tactics on how you can reach minority students,” she said.

Shaker Heights Schools fight problem head on

David Glasner is the new superintendent of Shaker Heights Schools.

He is working hard on addressing these issues in his school district.

“We want to make sure that once we hire candidates, that they also want to stay in Shaker, especially candidates of color, teachers of color, administrators and other staff and faculty,” Glasner said.

They're focusing on African American teacher recruitment and retention.

Glasner said they've seen some gains.

They're also trying to reach students in other ways.

“We want to make sure our curriculum is diverse and represents opportunities for students to see themselves and to understand their potential in our society,” he said.

The district’s new Educational Equity policy focuses on black student excellence.

They're hosting community workshops and meetings on race and education and all teachers are training on racism.

“We have to bring the community along with this work, with these conversations. That's why engagement of our community is so important,” Glasner said.

What can be done

Advocates encourage school districts to train teachers on implicit bias and foster a culture of high expectations for all students.

They say more black students should be encouraged to become teachers themselves.

Implicit bias and teacher representation are just two factors in the achievement gap. Studies show poverty and access to resources is also part of the problem.

Sargeant is hopeful for the future of black students' education.

“That educators are not colorblind to students, however that we are able to see that every student has something excellent within them, and that we push them to excel to their greatest potential and level,” she said.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs, were established before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to educate African Americans.

According to the Office for Civil Rights, blacks were usually generally denied admission to colleges considered traditionally white.

“As a result, HBCUs became the principle means for providing post-secondary education to black Americans,” the office said.

Cynthia Warrick is the president of Stillman College in Alabama.

She was recently in Ohio recruiting students.

Warrick spoke about the importance of historically black colleges and universities or HBCUs.

"We give students the nurturing environment. The small caring environment. We care whether you learn or not,” she said.

Tiara Sargeant experienced this firsthand as a graduate of Hampton University, an HBCU.

"You just feel like someone cares for you and you can really talk to. There’s one barrier that’s removed from that relationship,” she said.

Copyright 2020 WOIO. All rights reserved.