As the year comes to an end, parents and community members from Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools reflected on the origins and effects of the academic achievement gap in the school system.
The 2021-2022 performance data scores released by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction reported disparities between socioeconomic subgroups within CHCCS schools.
“In general, regardless of which community you’re looking at, I view the achievement gap as a consequence of an instructional and curriculum gap,” William Darity, professor of public policy and African and African American studies at Duke University, said.
He said the source of the achievement gap is the over-assignment of Black students to less challenging classes and their “gross under-representation” in upper-level classes.
Darity added that, due to the country’s racial history, it is Black students who most strongly feel the effects of the achievement gap.
CHCCS graduate and parent Vickie Feaster Fornville said she sees a very small number of Black and Brown students in AP and honors classes as well as gifted programs.
Feaster Fornville said her parents and grandmother are also products of the CHCCS school system, so her family has seen its segregation and integration.
She said she thinks making more preschools available within the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro would help create a more level playing field for students at the start of their K-12 education.
“If everyone is given the opportunity to start with the same level of preschool, you will then have a more consistently prepared population of students coming into kindergarten and first grade,” Feaster Fornville said.
Niche, which analyzes schools around the country, ranked CHCCS as the best school district in North Carolina for 2023.
CHCCS parent Alana Argersinger said the achievement gap is a pervasive problem that exists in every school district and she feels that CHCCS does not address the issue outright.
“If we’re supposed to be the best school district in the state of North Carolina, then why can’t we lead by best example and say ‘we do have a problem, there are things we need to address,’” she said.
Feaster Fornville said she believes people need to pay attention to the fact that just because someone chose to come to the district does not mean they have more of a right to a quality education than the people who were born here.
Argersinger said she has had discussions with her fifth-grade daughter about kids being pulled out of the classroom for extra help.
“She notices, as a fifth grader, that the kids who are getting pulled out of class for extra help are Black and Brown kids, and those who are receiving the harder work in class are white kids,” she said.
She added that her daughter thinks some students are being pulled out of class more because their parents can’t help them with their homework because they are working many jobs.
Argersinger said it is really sad that her daughter, a fifth-grader, is able to pick up on the patterns of the achievement gap in the school system.
Feaster Fornville said her daughters do not see as many people who look like them in the school district because there are fewer people of color in Chapel Hill and Carrboro now than when she was growing up.
“I’ve had people who questioned whether or not my daughters should be in a particular program or a class,” she said. “Some people have assumed that they didn't belong in a certain space because they were Black or because they were girls.”
Feaster Fornville added that her daughters have been in situations such as upper-level math classes where teachers have not been as encouraging or enriching as they should have been.
Argersinger said she sees the achievement gap more as an "expectation gap."
“We don’t expect the same across the board of all students starting in pre-K or kindergarten,” she said. “We say ‘Oh, this kid is a little smarter, so we’re going to offer them more rigor in their educational experience at school.”
Argersinger questioned why there are certain students who have higher grades than others repeatedly and whether or not it's because schools are not expecting the same from every student to produce a certain level of work in school.
She said that in a public school system, every student should receive the same opportunities and be held to the same expectations.
“When that doesn’t happen, I get really angry,” she said. “Because there’s no reason why each child should not be given the same chance.”
Feaster Fornville said she does not blame the current administration because the systems that have perpetrated the achievement gap have been in place for years.
“It’s not about individual people, it's about systems,” she said. “And if you’re not willing to try to look at those systems and acknowledge the fault that is there and the wrong and harm that has been done, then we won’t get where we need to go — there won’t be any success.”
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