The Feb. 18 column “Biggest Gap in Black Kids’ Learning: Parents” by Tony Norman asserts it’s going to take more than teacher evaluations to close the achievement gap in Pittsburgh, offering parent involvement as what’s needed. Indeed, we need more parent involvement. But, parents just don’t always realize what they don’t know about supporting educational attainment.
However, there are Pittsburgh students showing what’s possible when we give them and their parents the supports to succeed. Out-of-school time programs like my organization, Higher Achievement, are filling the gap in the exact issue areas that Mr. Norman points out: supervising homework, modeling appreciation for learning and building a positive culture of learning. Higher Achievement scholars spend an additional 650 academic hours annually, closing the gap by participating in homework help, electives (like sports or music), academic mentoring by local community members, summer classes in core subjects — year-round for three years.
It’s rigorous, but it works: 94 percent of Higher Achievement scholars graduate high school on-time and 76 percent graduate college (double and quadruple the rates of their peers). When parents are shown that there is help that can really make a difference, some choose the higher expectations rather than the status quo. So, we work closely with our scholars’ parents throughout the year to build relationships and highlight the importance of attendance, setting high expectations and reinforcing positive grades.
Yes, greater parental involvement is needed, but we also need to be realistic about the rigor needed to produce great gains and not shy away from high expectations. Let’s invest our time and resources in building after-school programs to introduce underserved students to a wide range of supportive, caring adults. Attend academic events rather than just sports. That’s how African-American academic underachievement is transformed — one scholar at a time, one family at a time.
WENDY ETHERIDGE SMITH
Higher Achievement Pittsburgh