It has been 644 days since America elected its first African-American President and race issues continue to plague our nation in ways that indicate a trend line of grave concern. The racial achievement gap is one of the most pressing issues of our time. SJ2020 is working on a strategic plan to eliminate the achievement gap in the next 10 years in San Jose and Silicon Valley.
Our efforts took a hit last week when the project did not make the U.S. list for funding in the Investing In Innovation competition. Teach for America and KIPP Foundation, a network of charter schools, won $50 million each in federal funding.
On Aug. 5, I was listening to NPR’s Talk of the Nation with guest host Tony Cox. One of his three panelists for a discussion on how our discussions on race have changed since Pres. Obama’s election was David Gergen, CNN senior political analyst and Harvard University’s professor of public service. The two other panelists were Leonard Pitts Jr., Miami Hearld columnist, and Maria Hinojosa, author and host of NPR’s Latino USA. The whole archived show can be listened to on NPR.org or at David Gergen’s Voice.
Cox said since President Obama’s election, “America is redefining itself racially … a process fraught with as much peril as hope.” In candidate Obama’s famous speech on race, he said it is “an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now…a part of our union we have yet to perfect.” In the institution of education we continue to tinker around the edges of the problem with competitive incentives like Race to the Top or the $600 million in Investing in Innovation.
What was fascinating about the NPR discussion was Gergen’s sincere understanding of the importance of overcoming the gaps in learning and health that exist between whites, blacks, and Hispanics. I found his passion on this issue refreshing and warranted.
“I think the issues of race are more uncomfortable to talk about today than when Barack Obama was running for president,” Gergen said. “I think most Americans understand we have made enormous progress in black and white relations since Martin Luther King was protesting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial…the gaps that remain are so vast in achievement and schools, income levels, obesity rates…there is a growing recognition that we have so many of these gaps to overcome in this country that unless we do that our nation is imperiled.”
“I believe very strongly that we have too many people in this country that see it as us versus them. We have got to see that we are all in this together. It is extremely important for all of us to close these achievement gaps to work very hard on the education of minorities in this country.”
Time magazine’s Aug. 2 cover story addressed a major causal factor of the racial achievement gap. David Von Drehle’s article was headlined: “The Case Against Summer Vacation: It’s an outdated legacy of the farm economy. Adults still romanticize it. But those months out of school do the most damage to the kid that can least afford it.”
Yes, summer vacations exacerbate the achievement gap between the haves and have-nots. According to Time’s research, by 9th grade, summer learning loss could be blamed for nearly two-thirds of the achievement gap. Malcomb Gladwell also addresses this issue in his best-selling book Outliers.
Therefore, another topic on SJ2020’s agenda must be for our village to find creative ways to make summertime a meaningful learning time for all children, not just children whose families have the means to provide enriching experiences when the school bells are silent. This is especially urgent in times when government monetary resources are non-existent.