The Missouri NAACP and St. Louis City NAACP plan to develop and implement a Missouri Civil Rights Initiative to close the academic achievement gap in every school district statewide.
Their first step was to host a forum, with The St. Louis American, where civic and religious leaders, parents, educators and other stakeholders could engage in open dialogue about how to address the challenges in urban education.
The Leadership Summit on Excellence in Pre-K-12 was held Saturday at the Better Family Life Cultural, Educational & BusinessCenter, 5415 Page Blvd. Facilitators included Walle Amusa, chair of the Missouri NAACP Education Committee; Mary A. Ratliff, president of the Missouri NAACP; and Adolphus Pruitt, president of St. Louis City NAACP.
Ronald F. Ferguson, director of the Harvard University Academic Achievement Gap Institute, was the keynote speaker. The next day, he traveled to Columbia, Mo. where he was also the keynote speaker at a statewide conference of more than 500 superintendents from every school district statewide.
At the summit in St. Louis, Ferguson presented the lecture “Toward Excellence with Equity: A Social Movement for the 21st Century” and later engaged in an informal Q&A session with the audience. He discussed the concept of “group-proportional equality” as being the goal in closing the academic achievement gap.
That is, he said, we must “raise the achievement levels across all groups in the state’s population and at the same time narrow gaps between groups.”
At present, African-American, Hispanic and children of lower socio-economic backgrounds in Missouri are performing at proficiency levels that are about half the performance of other students nationwide, Amusa said. This trend is most evident in the St. Louis and Kansas City metropolitan regions. Ferguson said that racial disparities in learning skills are clearly evident by the time children are two years old.
That is why the Missouri NAACP and the St. Louis NAACP are responsible for pushing the state of Missouri to release $95 million of de-seg money to St. Louis Public Schools to “put a pre-school program in every elementary school in the City of St. Louis,” Amusa said.
“By the time African-American children reach kindergarten, they are already two years behind because they lack basic skills,” he said. “Something needs to be done on early childhood education and literacy in the region because the goal is to have children enter kindergarten prepared, not dealing with remediation.”
Remediation leads to failing school districts, like Normandy and Riverview Gardens, the only two unaccredited school districts in St. LouisCounty. Another NAACP objective is to assist Missouri school districts in regaining and/or maintaining full accreditation.
Lynn Beckwith Jr., E. Desmond Lee Endowed Professor of Urban Education at the University if Missouri–St. Louis in connection with the St. Louis Public Schools, said early childhood education is critical to accreditation.
He cited SLPS Superintendent Kelvin Adams, who said the district regained provisional accreditation by investing in early childhood education programs.
In attendance at the summit were Ty McNichols, superintendent of the NormandySchool District, and Scott Spurgeon, superintendent of the RiverviewGardens School District, the county’s two unaccredited districts.
“People need to leave their egos and politics at the door so we can bring accreditation back and provide the very best for our kids,” Spurgeon said.
Spurgeon mentioned several times that he would like to see more parental involvement in the district. The NAACP plans to conduct an assessment of each school district to determine the effectiveness of its parental engagement infrastructure to sustainably improve educational outcomes for all children.
“The NAACP will bring the best national expertise to the St. Louis region and the state to provide resources and best practices for educators to tap into the strength that it currently has, to help eliminate weaknesses, and to take them to new and higher levels that translate to children from our state being able to compete at the global level,” Amusa vowed.
“NAACP is ready, willing and able to work with all segments of the community black and white, civic and religious, professional and nonprofessional, parents. It’s a collective community interest.”