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May 2, 2016

The Achievement Gap is a Community Problem that We All Must Own

As the Operations Team of Evanston Cradle to Career, an initiative mentioned in your article, we wanted to both clarify our purpose and to raise concern about some of the conclusions your article suggests.  Evanston Cradle to Career was created in response to the entrenched problem of the disparate outcomes for children in our community.  The approach of collective impact, which guides Evanston Cradle to Career, recognizes that the schools alone cannot address the wide range of issues that contribute to the achievement gap and that by bringing public and private organizations together we can begin to fundamentally change the systems that result in these inequitable outcomes.

First, we want to applaud District 65 for their transparency in producing the report that served as the foundation for the recent D65 Board Meeting on Black Student Achievement. We also thank OPAL and the NAACP Education Branch for the critical role they played in requesting additional attention to this issue. While heartbreaking, the data in this report clearly demands fundamental change in our community. 

As your article suggests, families play a critical role in helping their children prepare for kindergarten. However, ignoring the systemic inequities, and historic and current trauma, many families face—poverty, racism, homelessness, food insecurity, and many, many more—and then laying the blame on families that their children are unprepared, profoundly misrepresents the reality of the disparate lives of children in Evanston.

We all have a great deal of work to do and a critical piece of that work is identifying areas where systemic racism is undermining the success of Evanston’s children.  District 65 needs to look closely at factors they control that impact the achievement gap.  Additionally, early childhood providers, the faith-based community, the Health Department, Parks and Recreation, nonprofits, and all of the rest of us must consider how we can address inequities and support families in helping their children to be ready to learn.  It is time to stop pointing fingers and start rolling up our sleeves and recognizing that together we can create a community where ALL our children can thrive.