Last week I attended the annual convention of the National Association of Black Journalists in New Orleans to share with them some important research about parents and caregivers of color – how they view our public schools and the future they imagine for their children.
It’s no secret that we, as a nation, have a difficult time educating our neediest children. On average, black students are two to three years behind their white peers. Almost 70 percent of black fourth graders cannot read at grade level.
Sadly, most parents of color know their schools and children can do better: Seven out of 10 African-American parents say their neighborhood schools need to be reformed, according to research conducted for an array of education and civil rights organizations with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
These parents want their children to take rigorous college preparation courses. When asked, 91 percent of Latino and 86 percent of African-American parents said that it was important that their children go to college–and they overwhelmingly want their children to attend four-year colleges.
These children deserve to grow up to live a healthy and productive life, and they are a vital part of our future. We must make this happen.
A 2009 report by McKinsey concluded that narrowing the achievement gap between black and Latino students and white students would have raised our nation’s GDP in 2008 by no less than $310 billion. Our national achievement gap is equivalent to a permanent economic recession.
Eliminating the achievement gap is one reason why the Gates Foundation was an early supporter of the Common Core State Standards, which have been voluntarily adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia. These standards lay out what students need to learn to succeed. They raise the bar for student achievement for all students regardless of what state or neighborhood or circumstance in which they live. If implemented correctly, these standards will allow us to say to parents of color, “We know that you have high expectations for your child for your school – rightfully so. We have those same high expectations.”
It was particularly exciting to speak to reporters about this in New Orleans, which in the years since Hurricane Katrina, has redesigned and rebuilt its school system into a leader of innovation and high expectations.
As a nation, we have an obligation to not just adopt better standards, but give children and families a way to meet them. That's why in addition to supporting standards, the foundation is investing in helping teachers become more effective, and in resources, tools and supports that will help students master the new common core standards. We want to support states and districts that are now doing the hard work of implementation.
Our goal is to make the investments in schools that reinforce what all parents at home hope for and want from their children. Our investments are directly tied to the aspirations of parents, especially those low-income families who understand that educational opportunity is the key to their children’s success.