Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Parents, Teachers, Administrators Address Achievement Gap in Pittsburgh

“Where’s the moral outrage over the lack of equity in education,” asked Duquesne University Dean of Education Olga Welch who attended a recent community forum on the achievement gap held by 90.5 WESA.

“Where is it,” replied forum panel member Jeremy Resnick, a founder of Propel Charter Schools, “it’s missing.”

Dozens of parents, teachers and administrators crowded the Community Broadcast Center recently for a public forum as part of WESA’s Life of Learning initiative.

The panelists—Resnick, Monica Lamar, principal of Pittsburgh Dilworth K-5, Stan Thompson, Education Program Director for The Heinz Endowments, John Welch, Dean of Students at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and Renel Williams, Director of Teaching, Learning and Assessment in the Penn Hills School District—were asked why Pennsylvania’s achievement gap is larger than the national average and what is being done by local schools to shrink that disparity.

According to the Nation’s Report Card from the US Department of Education, in math the gap between white students and African American students in Pennsylvania is 38 percentage points compared to the national average of 30 percentage points.   For reading it’s 33 percentage points in Pennsylvania and 27 percentage points nationwide.

Rev. Welch, a member of a national network of faith leaders developing policies to shrink the gap,  said reasons behind the gap are racial, income, and tax dollars invested in education.

“We have to continue to look at it through a racial lens, but we also have to broaden it to look at other social constructs or impediments that have an impact on educational achievement.”

Stan Thompson says one has to look at the racial component as well as poverty.

The US Department of Education reports the achievement gap in Pennsylvania for math is 32 percentage points between low income versus not low income students.  Nationwide that gap is 28 percentage points.

Pennsylvania spends $12,995 per student—above the national average of $10,615 and Ohio at $11,030, but less than the other neighboring states of New York ($18,618), New Jersey ($16,841) and Maryland ($13,738).

The panelists agreed it is not just about financial resources, it’s about community involvement and meeting the needs of each student.

Renel Williams said the approach must be individualized.

“It’s focused on every child and the whole child.  It’s not just about reading and math; it’s about all of their needs that they come with.”

It’s never to early to shrink or even head off the gap said Monica Lamar, Principal at Pittsburgh Dilworth K-5.

“One of the things that’s my greatest joy is my 3-year old students that come to Dilworth and we start that relationship before they get to school age programs.  A lot of it is about having a relationship to instill different values and different things we’re going to do in school and to also hear parents and bring them on so we become partners early on.”

But is it ever too late to reduce the gap, for instance once students are in high school.  “I don’t think there’s ever a time to give up on a person,” says Rev. Welch.