Why academic gaps diminish education

Our country’s promise of an equal start in life through public education for all children is consistently at odds with a problem that American educators have been trying to remedy for many years. It is the achievement gap — and in our community it has been the focus of numerous school board efforts, community panels and even state inquiries.

Fifteen years ago, the Christian County Board of Education approved the implementation of an initiative called Closing the Achievement Gap that had the backing of the state’s Minority Student Achievement Task Force. A few years later, the Study Circles effort, which dealt with racial division in Hopkinsville and Christian County, tried to heighten awareness about the achievement gap between African-American and white students. And in 2008, the state Board of Education leaned hard on Christian County for failing to make more progress to close the achievement gap. This, in part, led to a shake-up in the central office and appointment of a new superintendent. More recently, during a teacher appreciation breakfast at the start of the 2011-12 school year, a guest speaker from Lexington offended some educators when he used that forum to challenge schools to deal with the achievement gap.

There’s no doubt the achievement gap is a tough and persistent problem for Christian County. Now a local panel of public education supporters is preparing for a forum to outline some new efforts at closing the gap.

The Christian County Achievement Gap Committee and the school system will use the forum to discuss opportunities to help students succeed. The emphasis will be on helping black male students in the middle and high schools.

The committee’s plan includes recruiting 100 African-American men to be mentors in the schools, said Charles Turner, the volunteer resource, conservation and development coordinator.

Earlier this year, the Kentucky Department of Education renewed its focus on closing achievement gaps. Commenting on the priority, Department of Education Chief of Staff Tommy Floyd told state school board members, “This is not only about compliance, but it is an ethical imperative about reaching each child. By focusing on the individual needs of students, we will not only reduce achievement gaps but also improve achievement of all students.”

These efforts are not unique to Hopkinsville or Kentucky. Communities across the country are trying to close achievement gaps. But it will take a solution unique to Hopkinsville and Christian County to close the gap — and no one is better able to find and implement those solutions than local people.

The Christian County Achievement Gap Committee, along with an advisory committee to Superintendent Mary Ann Gemmill, could use the genuine interest and enthusiastic support of the community.

A weeknight meeting about closing the academic achievement gap might not sound like the hottest ticket in town — but the topic for the Oct. 12 forum outranks just about anything we can imagine in terms of its weight to Hopkinsville and Christian County.

If you have a stake in this community through family ties, through affection or through a personal or business investment, this is a meeting that ought to have your attention.

Let’s hope the room is packed. It’s time to deal with the achievement gap and realize the promise of equal opportunity through a good education.

The Kentucky New Era

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