Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Masters of Our Fate African-American Students in Pittsburgh Will Do Fine If We Give Them Great Teachers

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Masters of Our Fate African-American Students in Pittsburgh Will Do Fine If We Give Them Great Teachers

Article excerpt

I recently returned to Pittsburgh from Washington, D.C., where I celebrated and was challenged by the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. I am humbled thinking about how far we've come and how much we have left to do.

In our schools, we still see inequities that existed in 1963 despite measurable progress in African-American student achievement. During the original march, Whitney Young Jr., president of the National Urban League, pointed out that black children were confined to "congested, ill-equipped schools, which breed dropouts and smother motivation." In many places, they still are -- including right here in Pittsburgh.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, last year three out of every four black children still attended mostly segregated schools that received significantly fewer resources than majority- white schools. In Pittsburgh, the number of black students performing at grade level in 2012 was 30 percentage points lower than white students; their graduation rate was 15 percent less than white students.

These gaps are not inevitable; they are a result of choices made over time. We can make different choices that raise the bar for all of our students, black and white. The mistaken choices of the past have led to a poverty rate for African-Americans that is higher in our region for children under 5 than any other major urban region in the country.

As president of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh and a former teacher, I know the devastating impact that poverty has on children. Just like those who marched 50 years ago, I still believe that the best anti-poverty program for any child is a quality education. And, as researchers tell us, at the core of quality education is a great teacher.

A great teacher for a child, whether black or white, poor or rich, can have an impact that lasts a lifetime. A December 2011 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research on the long-term impact of teachers showed that children who experience great teaching in just one year of schooling increase their chances of going to college, earn more over their lifetimes and avoid getting pregnant as teens. …

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