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"Closing the Achievement Gap, Kindergarten Through College,"

by Kati Haycock January/February 1997 issue of Poverty & Race

Across the country, the use of race in college admissions is under attack. Though but one tool in the overarching effort to improve educational opportunity in this country, the use of race in admissions is still a necessary tool. Without it, efforts in many parts of the country to increase the diversity of college enrollments will be devastated. Compared to the K-12 population, higher education enrollments aren't sufficiently diverse to begin with. The loss of the use of race as a tool in admissions will take us backward.

That said, we are equally clear that higher educators need to take heed. Affirmative action has become a crutch for too many in higher education. Instead of being one among a whole toolbox of tools to improve educational opportunity and campus diversity, affirmative action has become the sole tool. So we haven't helped to reshape the conditions - like wretched schools, for example - that result in the achievement gap between students of color and white students. We've simply cushioned ourselves from the results.

That wouldn't be good enough even if we were going to be able to preserve affirmative action forever. It's clearly not good enough when the opposite is more likely.

So what should higher educators be doing to address the problems in K-12 that give rise to the need for affirmative action?

My advice is straightforward: "Get off the sidelines! Instead of ignoring the extraordinary efforts now being made to improve public schools, roll up your sleeves and go to work. Concentrate all of your energy on schools most in need of improvement - those serving low-income and minority students. Join educators and parents in those schools in their efforts to transform teaching and learning."

Our work with the more than 30 communities across the country that have created Community Compacts and K-16 Councils suggests that these can be powerful vehicles for harnessing the energies of both post-secondary and K-12 educators toward the goal of closing the achievement gap. This experience points to several especially important roles for higher education in improving schools serving minority and poor children, including:

· Collaborating with K-12 educators, parents and business leaders in developing standards that will serve as goals for all schools;
· Helping teachers in schools with watered-down curricula to design new curricula aligned with the standards;
· Deepening the knowledge - especially the content knowledge - of teachers so that they can help students reach the standards;
· Preparing a new generation of urban teachers who know their subjects. are passionate about teaching them and believe that all students can learn at high levels; and
· Preparing principals and counselors who will be the real advocates for urban schools and lead their schools to higher levels of achievement.

The problems in schools serving minority youngsters are deep, complex and won't go away overnight. At the moment, however, those problems are exacerbated by what we do in higher education. College, community and K-12 leaders working together toward the goal of closing the gap can eventually make affirmative action unnecessary.

Kati Haycock Kati Haycock is Director of The Education Trust (1725 K St. NW, #200, Wash., DC 20006, 202/293-1217, E-mail: Vice Chair of PRRAC’s Board of Directors.

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