A local organization in the Seattle area called Black Education Strategy Roundtable (BESR) is trying to close the achievement gap for students of color.
According to Kela Hall, media contact for BESR, the organization started around 14 years ago. She said it used to be part of a group called African American Affairs Commission.
“It spiraled out of that, out of finding so much negative data toward black students and the achievement gap when it comes to math, when it comes to being ready for college. The achievement gap continues to widen and BESR, they seek real solutions really happening. So then they ended up forming a 501c3 and they detached themselves from the African American Affairs Commission and became its own nonprofit,” Hall said.
There was limited funding for BESR, so most of the people who joined the group were volunteering their time.
Hall said with a lack of funds, they weren’t able to be as successful as they wanted to be, so they wrote a grant for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and ended up getting approved for a grant that was for more than $2 million.
The money is to be used over a three-year time span to close the achievement gap and it’s in its third year now, Hall explained.
The biggest goal Hall said for BESR is to show data that proves there is an achievement gap for black children.
To show the data, Hall said BESR partnered with an organization called Education Trust, or Ed Trust, which has a goal to promote and support federal and state policies to ensure all students have access to a high quality of education and opportunities to succeed in preschool to high school and higher education, according to Ed Trust’s website.
Ed Trust has developed a number of tools to help students, parents,educators, policymakers and advocates find and use key education data more easily.
“Ed Trust holds data across the entire country on equity. So (we did) an equity walk at the conference. So people (were able) to see the data and know that it’s not just BS numbers, its the real full on data,” Hall said.
An equity walk is something BESR did at its second annual conference, which was held this year on Nov. 2 and Nov. 3 in Des Moines. The walk is a way for people to physically see the data that the organization is talking about.
During the equity walk, people who have attended the conference have the chance to walk around the conference room and see signs with specific statistics and data on them.
Once attendees had a chance to look at each sign, they were able to stick a sticky note onto the sign with their reaction to the statistic and/or how they think they can change that statistic to close the achievement gap.
For instance, one of the statistics shown was that only half of Washington students meet college-ready benchmarks on the SAT.
According to the sign that was displayed at the BESR conference, 64 percent of white students meet that college-ready benchmark on the SAT, whereas 22 percent of black students meet it.
Another statistic shown was black students are more than twice as likely to be suspended or expelled as white students.
Hall said part of the reason why black students are more likely to get expelled could have to do with poverty.
Some of the trouble starts early on with students when their parents aren’t able to afford early child education, Hall said.
“We found some discrepancies there where a lot of black kids just aren’t getting access to the same level education prior that white kids are,” Hall said.
She also explained that black kids could have trouble behaving in school because there is a lack of qualified black teacher in schools.
She said there needs to be some sort of representation of black students at schools, which is why having more black teachers teaching would be essential to helping some black students succeed.
“The equity walk is something where I don’t think it matters your age or anything, or if you’re black, white, Asian, Hispanic, that equity walk is going to show everybody,” Hall said. “I think the data walk is going to give the individuals in the room an opportunity to really see the actual data and being able to come up with a solution. This year, we (presented) the data so that next year we have an even stronger focus on what do we need to do.”
Also at the BESR conference, there was a student panel, which consisted of three students, two of them were from the Tukwila School District.
During this panel, Hall said the students were able to talk about the education gap from their standpoint.
According to Damian Turner, a Tukwila student, he spoke at the conference because his teacher thought he could make a difference.
“She said this was a good chance to help other black students coming up in the school district because me, I’m a junior right now, and my high school career is almost over, but me talking and saying what teachers could do for black students coming up, I think me telling my story and my struggles can wake them up and help them in the long run,” Tuner said.
Hall said this is essential for students because they need to be apart of the conversation and be apart of the change that there needs to be.
The biggest take away from this conference is to bring back equity in schools, Hall said.
“You need more than black people to make this change. You have to have everyone in a seat at the table and I believe this year is going to give that opportunity where it doesn’t matter if you’re white, black, orange, blue, you need a seat at the table to talk about this issue at hand,” Hall said.