The American educational system is experiencing competing views of how to close the racial achievement gap that has been well documented through standardized test scores. Some believe that these scores have no value, while others believe that the gaps identified by these scores must be addressed. Of course, how to address these gaps is a subject for significant dispute. My view is that standardized tests are an important tool to provide apples to apples comparisons of schools and school districts, but such narrow tools necessarily cannot be the sole factor in measuring a student’s education, let alone a teacher’s or school’s performance.
Those who are truly interested in educational success for all students certainly should be interested in how well students learn to read, write and do arithmetic. Yet, we all know that once students finish their formal education (hopefully with a diploma), the real measure of educational success will not be measured by one or more test scores. Rather, the real measure of educational success will be whether our schools have provided students with the tools to succeed in their adult lives.
Since our nation has become increasingly diverse, with census data showing that in 2011, 36.2% of the US population were identified as people of color, and that percentage is expected to rise to 49.9% by 2050, a successful education must include ensuring that students are well equipped to live and succeed in a diverse adult world.
While most people may think that my hometown for nearly 3 decades, Madison, Wisconsin, is not very diverse, the truth is that like the rest of country, it is becoming very diverse, and its public schools are very diverse. Indeed, my son attends Madison East High School, which is now a minority white school.
But merely attending a diverse school by itself is no guarantee that the diversity within the school will teach the students to succeed in a diverse adult world. Fortunately, Madison East High School students are fortunate to have teachers such as Cynthia Chin, who is committed to ensuring that a diverse education leads to a successful transition to adulthood. In addition to being an excellent Calculus teacher, Ms. Chin is also the mentor for the Engineering Club. Her leadership has guided that club to regularly participate in the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) regional and national conferences. This organization is dedicated to the academic and professional advancement of black students and engineering professionals and indeed, the conference is attended by virtually all black students and engineers.
However, Ms. Chin saw an opportunity, which NSBE graciously facilitates, to provide an enriching diverse academic and social experience to the diverse students in her club. As I reported last year, the East High Robotic team won the regional robotics competition at the midwest regional NSBE conference, which I was fortunate to chaperone. This year, I chaperoned the club’s trip last week to the midwest regional NSBE conference in Detroit. The team did not win any competitions, but they were nevertheless enriched by the experience of diversity, both amongst themselves and within the entire conference, where successful Black engineers served as inspiring role models to all. One look at the East High Engineering Club’s happy faces after the closing banquet says it all.
After the closing party, I asked my son if the trip, which included very long bus rides, was worth it. He told me that it was because he was able to reconnect with conference attendees that he met last year. That says a lot about his ability to navigate easily in a diverse world, both now and in the future. As we celebrate Thanksgiving, I am thankful for Cynthia Chin’s dedication to closing the achievement gap through academic and social diversity. No test can measure the incredibly profound impact this has had on so many of her students’ lives.