There is a gap. A canyon. A chasm. Of this there is no doubt. There is a gap, and people talk about it, but they’re usually talking about a gap between the test score averages of minority children and non-minority students.
Oh my, this is the least of my concerns. A standardized test score can be useful in general tracking trends, but it’s a poor measure of the truly complex issues that face minority communities. Let’s take the Hispanic community.
There’s a school readiness gap with Latino kindergarten children. The most successful students come to kindergarten knowing how to count and their colors and how to sing their ABCs. The number of words a child knows. Their ability to have a conversation or form a question. The U.S. Department of Education’s Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey of Kindergarten children found that perhaps half of the test-score gap later in a student’s life can be attributed to the gap in school readiness at the beginning.
Hispanic children often come to school as five-year-olds with issues of poverty, speaking little English, from parents who do not have health insurance and who may be working two or three jobs making low wages and no benefits and who may not have finished their own schooling and who may never have dreamed of the possibilities of a university.
Hispanic children may have a gap in the very security they feel in their own homes and families if their parents are undocumented and fearful of being discovered and deported back to a country where they cannot feed their children no matter how hard they work.
There is a gap in the very resources schools can count on. In places where school funding is still based on local property taxes, if you live in a wealthy community with sufficient property taxes you can cover a great sports program, a comprehensive arts program, career counselors, a school nurse, AP classes and French. You have a comprehensive curriculum that makes students college and career ready.
In poor communities, their funding base reflects the poverty of the residents and the buildings are often old and falling apart, teachers and support staff are left to buy their own supplies out of their own pockets and courses are curtailed to a few classes designed and often scripted to do no more than raise a standardized test score – something irrelevant to college or career and mind - numbingly boring to students hungry to learn something real.
There is a gap in dreams. Thousands of Hispanic students were brought to our country as very young children by parents hoping to provide a better life for their boys and girls. Some of these children are undocumented. They have a right to a public school, but when they graduate, they cannot attend their local community college or university as residents of the city and state they’ve lived for years and years – even the most talented, highest-performing students – because of their immigration status. They cannot dream of higher education until our broken immigration system is fixed to include a Dream Act that will allow these precious children a path to citizenship and to put their education to use to benefit themselves, their families and the country they love.
Hispanic students are just as kind, bright, creative, talented and as full of hope for their futures as any other student. There is no gap in these areas. But they are more likely to drop out and least likely to attend college than any other minority children.
The reasons for these gaps are related to all the other gaps in their worlds. They will soon be 25 percent of our kindergarten population. It is our national responsibility to address all the gaps that affect them. They are not a charity. They will be our future. We ignore their needs; we ignore their gifts; we ignore their potential to our peril.
Lily Eskelsen is the vice president of the National Education Association. She blogs at Lily's Blackboard.
All statements and opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors, and not of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or NBC News.