SPRINGFIELD — For many years, community leaders and parents like Kim Rivera have been voicing concerns about the gap in academic achievement between black and Latino students and white students in the same public schools.
Rivera, of Massachusetts Parents United, joined several parents and many educators Thursday at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, where a study conducted by The Massachusetts Education Equity Partnership was presented, revealing that her concerns are based on facts.
MEEP was formed by advocacy organizations representing children and underrepresented groups. Its goal is to advocate for policies that help students who traditionally have not done well in school.
The event, organized by the Urban League of Springfield, included several speakers explaining the results of a report released in September titled, “Number One for Some,” which identified huge disparities statewide in educational milestones for black and Latino children, low-income children and English language learners.
The data presented show that even in suburban communities, black and Latino students are not excelling academically at the same rate as their white peers.
“Oftentimes in Massachusetts, we think of ourselves as a leader in education nationally, and it’s true that there is a lot to celebrate in the state, but at the same time we have to acknowledge what we haven’t accomplished,” said Natasha Ushomirsky, director of education equity policy for the Washington-based The Education Trust. “Underneath those really high rankings are big disparities in opportunity and achievement that affect so many low-income students and students of color across the state.”
Some of the highlights of the report show major gaps in literacy, math and graduation rates for students of color.
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“Less than a third of African-American and Latino fourth graders are proficient in reading. That’s a far lower rate than for their white peers,” Ushmorisky said. “We see similar gaps in eighth grade math when it comes to low-income students and their higher-income peers.”
Many black and Latino students are not graduating on time and are not continuing on to post-secondary education at the same rate as white students, the report shows.
“Too few students who graduate are able to meet college readiness benchmarks,” Ushmorisky said. “That begs the question, what are they being prepared for?”
Rivera said Mass Parents United felt it was important to be one of the organizations supporting the study.
“We decided to get involved in this study because we are an advocacy group that makes sure parents are involved and empowered and have the opportunity to have a voice when it comes to the education of their children,” Rivera said.
A former parent facilitator in the Springfield Public Schools, Rivera said the study puts on paper what parents have been saying for decades.
“For many years, parents have voiced that they wanted something to happen when it came to the education of their children because they could see that their black and brown children were not being educated as well as they should be,” she said.
The report concluded that the disparities are the result of a lack of funding to school districts serving low-income students, limited access to early education programs and even a lack of qualified teachers.
The study revealed that black and Latino students in Massachusetts are three times more likely than white students to be assigned to a teacher who lacks content expertise in the subject that they teach.
Felix Rivera has a son in the Springfield Public Schools and one in Westfield Public Schools. He said the differences in the education they are receiving is surprising to him.
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“The education in Springfield seems more scripted instead of being focused on the students themselves. Westfield has a one-on-one approach,” said Rivera, who has a 10th grader in the Westfield schools and a sixth grader in the Springfield schools. “It seems like in Springfield, the focus is on moving them along and passing the MCAS, and that worries me.”
Parents hope the new study will bring about change in the way black and Latino students are educated.
“I read the report last night and I just thought, this is what everyone has been saying, but now what? Where do we go from here?” Felix Rivera said. “You can organize all you want, you can protest and have marches, but who is willing to step up and change the curriculum and try to implement a new educational system?”