They came from all across the city: Black parents, educators, former and elected officials, CEO’s, Pastors, concerned citizen, organizers and young people from the Urban Underground gathered to find out how we as a community will take ownership of the failure of our children scoring the lowest in the nation in reading tests. New Hope Missionary Baptist Church was host for the meeting, its shepherd, Pastor Ivy.
While many of us gasped at hearing the news that our 4th graders in Milwaukee Public Schools lead the nation in not meeting the national levels in reading, there appears not to be much outrage. But on that particular night, they came together to try to change a future for our children, as Dr. Howard Fuller, former superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools, led what is called a community meeting to redirect our children.
This was not a meeting on private schools versus public schools. This was a meeting convened for our community to take ownership of the problem and to come up with solutions to address the problem, finally.
A recent report by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reflected dire progress of our 4th and 8th graders.
NAEP performs “The Nation’s Report Card,” which informs the public about the academic achievement of elementary and secondary students in the United States.
The Report card communicates the findings of NAEP, a continuing and nationally representative measure of achievement in various subjects over time. The testing report cycle at the fore was for 2009, as children, at the fourth and eighth grades levels, are tested every two years.
Dr. Fuller opened the meeting thanking everyone and sharing with all that we were here for our children. The agenda was to discuss the NAEP Report, suggest a plan of action and to enjoin with current community projects that focus on reading.
Dr. Fuller informed us that this reading crisis just didn’t start this year. “But we must take ownership and have the courage and political will to change it,” he said. “We must instill in all of us a commitment to action on behalf of our children.”
He gave many historical points of references as to why there have always been problems with Black people and reading. He noted that first it was against the law for Black people to read or they would be killed. He cited Fredrick Douglas’ conversation with his master. When asked why Black people were not allowed to read, the response from the master: “If you give a Ni—er an inch, he will take an ell.”
Fuller also cited Papa Dallas, a slave who was caught trying to learn his ABC’s so that he could learn to read the Bible. He was whipped and his eyes were barred out.
Dr. Fuller also made mention of the four students in Greensboro, NC who demanded to be served at the lunch counter. “Now we have the freedom to sit at the lunch counters, but we can’t read the menu,” he said. “To conclude it has been systematic … why we have such problems with reading.”
Fuller explained what NAEP was and why we need to take their report serious. There was a power point presentation that effectively showed us how our children were failing. There were many questions and suggestion as a course of action that we could take.
There were comparisons of test scores from 2007 and other years. Of course Black students were on the bottom, in some cases by as much as a 4-1 margin to White students. Many states that were at the bottom in past years have really improved their reading scores. We need to see what it is that they have done.
All the statics were viewed and a course of action was put in place. Two work groups were formed: one designed to look at what the other states have done to initiate improved reading scores, the other to talk to those who have actually implemented those policies and look at what policy initiatives were put in place for them to achieve their success.
Everyone signed up for one of the work committees. For those of you who are interested in the next meeting, it will be May 24, 2010 at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church at 6 p.m.