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Achievement gap

WCCUSD workshops give Black parents a chance to confront racial bias in schools

on November 26, 2021

Shortly after the start of the school year, education consultant Mary Bacon encouraged about three dozen parents and guardians in the West Contra Costa Unified School District to engage teachers and schools to improve the educational outcomes for African American students across the district. 

“We don’t have the luxury anymore to drop our kids off and say we’ve found the right school district, or this is the right school and the right classroom, and then not check on them again until graduation,” Bacon, who is Black, told participants at a Sept. 21 workshop. “We’ve got to be vigilant about what is the content and the quality of the education that has been provided for our children.”

Since the start of the academic year, WCCUSD’s Office of African American Student Achievement has organized monthly workshops on Zoom for parents and guardians of African American students. These workshops offer families ways to engage teachers and schools as partners who are deeply invested in the success of the student. At a recent meeting, parents expressed disappointment and said they felt that their kids’ teachers often didn’t give the time needed to address their concerns about their children’s academic performance.  

“We’re working with parents on how they navigate the educational system because the system is tough and it was not meant to educate Black children.”

William McGee

OAASA’s monthly workshops provide a safe space for Black parents and guardians to share their concerns, said Chyanne Tanner, chair of the African American Parent Advisory Council, an advocacy group of Black parents and guardians at each district school. 

Some Black parents say they feel dismissed by teachers when they bring up concerns about their children, causing a strained relationship between them and teachers. This has forced some parents to spend money for tutoring, since, they say, teachers neither listen to their complaints nor provide the additional support their kids need. 

Tanner said her 7-year-old son is among about 28 Black students at Washington Elementary, a  Spanish-English immersion school in Richmond. Black kids at the school need more support to learn Spanish because they come from English-speaking homes, she said. But they get limited support from the school, so parents such as Tanner have resorted to paying for outside tutoring. 

“[My son’s] teacher told me that my child was not meeting their expectations in Spanish,” she said. “And so, my question to that was, ‘What are you doing to help him get there? You can tell me that he’s not meeting the benchmarks, but what are you doing?’”

Many Black families in the district are worried about persistent achievement gaps based on race and want to know what the district is doing to address the issue. 

African American students have struggled to meet state math and English standards. Only 21% of African American students met or exceeded state standards in English in the 2018-2019 academic year, compared to 61% of white students, 27% of Latino students and slightly more than half of Asian students, according to data from the California Department of Education.

About 10% of Black students met or exceeded the math standards, compared to about half of white and Asian students, and 15% of  Latino students. 

Kenneth “Chris” Hurst Sr., WCCUSD superintendent, told Richmond Confidential in August that he is committed to closing the achievement gap, especially for Black and Latinx students. He also said the district would add training to help teachers address implicit biases. 

Achievement gap
William McGee, WCCUSD director of African American Student Achievement (Linus Unah)

Meanwhile, William McGee, WCCUSD’s director of African American Student Achievement, said engaging families to boost the academic achievement of Black students is a priority for his office.  

“We’re working with parents on how they navigate the educational system because the system is tough and it was not meant to educate Black children,” McGee said, making a historical reference to the segregation of schools and initial opposition to integration in some states.  “And so last school year, we discussed race and equity as a school district, and we spoke about racism, we spoke about equity, we spoke about white privilege, and what we were trying to do was become conscientious of biases to try and disrupt them.” 

Last year, the African American Site Advisory Team, comprising district leaders and Black families, prepared a resolution calling for more support for Black students. The School Board adopted the resolution and committed to spending up to $7 million to improve educational outcomes for the approximately 5,000 African American students in the district. 

There also are things parents can do for their young students at home. At the Sept. 21 workshop, Bacon explained how parents and guardians can set standards for academic achievement by providing time for homework, keeping an eye on assignments and participating in decisions at school that affect a child’s education. 

Parent advisory councils are powerful in their collective purpose, she said. “It is not just one individual, it also means that you’re not just focusing on your own child, which is what is a natural thing for people to do. It gives you a vehicle to be able to provide a message collectively to those who are in charge.”

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