In its May 22 edition, Mountain Xpress published the cover story “Unequal Opportunity: Goals, Timeline Lacking in Program Aimed at Racial Achievement Gap in City Schools” by Virginia Daffron, as part of an ongoing series addressing the racial achievement gap plaguing Asheville City Schools. This letter is a response to that article.
Daffron’s article argued that the district’s strategies to address and fix the racial achievement gap are “elusive.” Now is not the time for elusiveness or to merely “address” this problem. According to County Commissioner Al Whitesides, we have already “addressed” the issue, but it will continue existing until we decide to “eliminate” it.
Instead of coming up with a specific, districtwide plan with dates and metrics, ACS officials continue to state that our black students are failing due to poverty and unstable home lives, placing the onus on the larger community and the parents of these children rather than focusing on their own actions. I am not writing to dispute that there are outside factors making it harder for black students to learn in Asheville City Schools.
However, these factors alone wouldn’t make the district the worst performing for black students in the entire state. If the district is truly committed to fixing this alarming achievement gap between black and white students, it must work to make specific changes in its own treatment of black students.
Our children are in school for a large portion of their day. School can have a huge impact on students’ lives. Are our schools reinforcing existing racial inequities for black students? Cross-community supports are important, of course, but there are actions the schools can take to positively impact these students. The first is the recruitment of more black teachers — 92% of ACS teachers are white, and studies have shown that the implicit racial biases of teachers have a negative effect on students, starting in pre-K. Secondly is the recruitment of more school social workers. Lastly, the district must follow clear, time- and data-specific goals in regard to the gap between black and white achievement and discipline.
We must take this failure, acknowledge and own it, and then make sure such disparities are eliminated. This is our call to action. The future of our children depends on our decisions, and I want to see Asheville lead.
— Olive Wilbur