AFRICAN AMERICAN LEADERS HOLD THE ROADMAP TO
BLACK STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT
How can we close the African American achievement gap? An important and growing group of public schools with a majority African American student enrollment are answering this question by beating the odds, teaching their students effectively, and attaining impressive levels of academic achievement. There are 16 schools in total in this growing club—among them are 13 charter schools, 2 traditional district schools, and 1 magnet school.
These public schools are in the top half of academic achievement statewide and in the top 10 percent when compared to similar schools. Interestingly, 15 are founded or led by African Americans. These schools represent a diversity of learning models available through public education in California. In order to close the African American achievement gap, we should work together to grow, study, and learn from these important schools and the common characteristics they share.
When it comes to African American students, this will require educational stakeholders to be agnostic about the type of public school a parent has chosen for their child and focus on the results that the school has achieved.
California has over 10,000 public schools, of which 86 are majority African American. Nearly 70 percent of the state's majority African American schools perform in the bottom 25 percent of student achievement. By looking at the high-performing majority African American schools, we can learn how these schools are achieving results at scale with African American students—a challenge for the typical California public school.
Parents, community leaders, and schools need straightforward ranking systems to understand the performance of public schools. This is particularly important for parents who are looking to enroll their children in schools with a track record of success. Fortune School of Education calculated a measure to accomplish just that, based on the California Department of Education's Similar Schools Rank. This measure compares a school's academic performance, taking into account the demographic makeup of the school. State Rank, on the other hand, compares the absolute performance of schools regardless of demographic makeup.
We found 16 majority African American schools that had the highest score (10 out of 10) on the Similar Schools Rank as well as at least a 5 out of 10 on the State Rank. In other words, we found 16 schools that are majority African American and score in the top half of student performance statewide and in the top 10 percent of schools when considering their demographics.
94% of the top rated majority African American public schools in California are founded or led
by African Americans
To close the achievement gap, we need more schools to be like these positive outliers. The fastest way to make that happen is to expand these schools. Policymakers should provide incentives for charter schools on this list to open new sites, especially in areas where there are high concentrations of African American students with low levels of achievement.
This is an important space for regional initiatives to emerge to address regional problems. The Sacramento County Board of Education is engaged in one such regional initiative in which they have authorized nine charter schools to address the severe and persistent African American achievement gap that exists in the county. The results of this initiative are self-evident, as three of the state's highest performing majority African American schools are authorized by the Sacramento County Board of Education. This Sacramento County example provides evidence that high-achieving African American schools can be replicated.
A closer examination of the leadership of these and other schools that are positive outliers for African American students amplifies the important role of African American principals and school founders. Each new school that these leaders create will inspire students to obtain significantly higher academic growth. This option is high-impact and will make a difference in the quality of education for African American students statewide.
We should continue to study what makes these outliers so successful and encourage other schools to emulate those traits. Dr. Rex Fortune, a former superintendent, has published two books that focus on the practices of positive outlier schools. The most recent is Bridging the Achievement Gap: 2nd Edition. In his analysis, Dr. Fortune uses qualitative and quantitative research methods
to Identify how some schools are able to obtain such impressive results with African American students. Bridging the Achievement
7 Gap, highlights eleven practices found to be common across all the
positive outlier schools studied.
GROW, STUDY, AND EMULATE
High-achieving African American schools can be replicated.
PRACTICES OF SCHOOLS THAT ARE
CLOSING THE AFRICAN AMERICAN ACHIEVEMENT GAP
has a vision and plan based upon the expectation that students can and will succeed.
is smaller than average.
are deployed for instruction, family communications, data analysis and public information.
are selected for their beliefs that students can and will succeed and a willingness to show progress toward that goal.
for teachers and time for peer collaboration.
are based on frequent student assessments and adjustments to instructional strategies as necessary.
commit to assisting students at home and supporting the school.
receive learning opportunities to encourage involvement.
who need extra time for instruction receive it.
to encourage aspiration for college and career.
Bringing the Achievement Gap: 2nd Edition, Rex Fortune, Ph.D